Democrats push for legislation addressing racial disparities in Iowa

By: - June 4, 2020 3:33 pm

Iowa Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, shares some of his legislative priorities that address racial disparities in Iowa. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Democratic state lawmakers are pushing three policy priorities in light of the death of George Floyd and the eruption of protests across the country. 

On the steps of the Iowa Capitol Thursday, all donned in face masks, Democrats stood alongside local black community leaders, who are asking for systemic changes to the disparities they face.

Both House and Senate Democrats are calling for a ban on police chokeholds and neck restraints, prohibiting law enforcement agencies from rehiring officers who were fired or resigned for serious misconduct and allowing the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to investigate law enforcement agencies for misconduct.

Iowa Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, speaks during a news conference at the Iowa Capitol sharing Democrats’ legislative priorities addressing racial disparities in the state. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, said while Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, his death could have happened in Iowa as well.

“It could have happened in Iowa because like many communities, too many states in America, appropriate legislation doesn’t exist to protect our people,” Smith said. “People who look like me.”

Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said in his district last year, there was conflict between the Cedar County sheriff’s office and the Durant police department because the sheriff refused to book inmates from the town.

The sheriff was concerned over a Durant officer who had a “Giglio file,” which details allegations of police misconduct, according to KCRG.

The officer formerly worked for Iowa State Patrol for 30 years, but resigned. He ultimately left the Durant police department after a 2017 video surfaced of him knocking down a motorcyclist and falsely charging him with eluding arrest, according to the Associated Press.

“While we eventually got to the right place, it’s not hard to imagine a possibility where that situation ended in tragedy,” Wahls said. “Adopting this reform will help avoid that situation in the first place and will take political disagreements out of the equation.”

In a statement to Iowa Capital Dispatch, Speaker Pat Grassley said he spoke with House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, and Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines.

Grassley, R-New Hartford, said there’s interest from House Republicans to work on policies addressing racial disparities.

“While no one piece of legislation will completely solve the issue of racism, we can and should work together to find reasonable solutions and move our state forward,” Grassley said in his statement. “I appreciate the proposals that the Democrats have brought forward today and look forward to seeing the actual language that they are proposing so we can try to find common ground.”

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said he appreciates the work of the local community and wants to work with Reynolds and the House on passing the proposals.

“I appreciate the efforts of the community leaders working to implement reforms to reduce violent conflicts between law enforcement and Iowans,” Whitver said in a statement. “These three proposals are great ideas focused on bringing some real solutions to this problem. I am committed to working with the governor and the House to implement those ideas.”

Reynolds, in a separate news conference, expressed interest in continuing to work on racial justice issues but declined to take a position on the Democrats’ specific proposals.

Iowa Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames, shares Democrats’ legislative priorities addressing racial disparities at the Iowa Capitol on Thursday. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Beyond legislators, local activists also shared their demands for the city of Des Moines during Thursday’s press conference.

Des Moines Black Lives Matter, a newly organized group comprised of high school and college students, presented a list of demands to Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie during their protest at his home Wednesday night, said Ellie Odole, a leader in the organization.

The demands include releasing all incarcerated protesters. The group also called for an end to Polk County’s curfew; county supervisors lifted the curfew Thursday afternoon. The group also wants Gov. Kim Reynolds to issue an executive order restoring felon voting rights and Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert and Cownie to support an anti-racial profiling ordinance.

Odole said Cownie is currently supporting a weaker version of the racial profiling ordinance they would like to see pass. The group wants the city to include creating a citizen review board for complaints, requiring implicit bias and de-escalation training for police, lowering the arrest priority for marijuana possessions and make all police stops public information.

“If you have a parking ticket, you’re still allowed to vote,” Odole said. “Paying for voting is Jim Crow.”

The Des Moines City Council is meeting Monday and members are expected to address the protests and demands.

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