© 2022 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
IPR News

Protesters In Iowa City, Des Moines Rally In Support Of George Floyd

Peaceful protests in two Iowa cities Saturday marked another day of anger in many U.S. cities over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

The day after protesters clashed with Des Moines police near their downtown headquarters, breaking out windows in police cars and nearby businesses, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the city again Saturday for a “march for justice.”

The line of marchers stretched for blocks, backing up cars on University Avenue in east Des Moines. They carried signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” and shouted “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “no justice, no peace.” There were no clashes with police who redirected traffic on the busy thoroughfare.

On a bridge over the Des Moines River, the crowd took over both sides of the road, stopped chanting and kneeled in silence.

Jayda Allen of West Des Moines said she joined the march because she’s scared of being viewed as a threat because she’s black.

“It’s hard to be here and know that people don’t like me because I’m black and that I can’t go outside and live my life, that I have to be on alert all the time,” Allen said. “And if I get pulled over I have to make sure that I’m saying ‘Yes ma’am,” and “Yes sir,” and that my life can be taken right now.”

Allen said George Floyd’s death makes her worry that the same thing could happen to her dad or brother. Shonne Webb-Bey said he has grown up with the same fear as an African-American man in Des Moines. “I go out every day wondering if I’m going to make it home,” Webb-Bey said. “I have friends that say ‘be careful.’ [Floyd]was being careful. He still died.”

Calvetta Williams of Mothers Against Violence, one of the organizers of the march, said after Floyd’s death more people feel the need to speak out.

“It’s beautiful to see all these people out here and not tearing things up like they think we’re going to do,” Williams said. “It means hope. It means justice, not only for George Floyd but all the black women and black men that have been taken.”

Williams said she watched the video of Floyd, showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck, with her seven-year-old son.

“It angered me when I seen it. It still angers me,” Williams said. “Seeing that with him, I was thinking this is his reality. He will one day grow up to be a man and have to go out in this world. That’s why I’m here today. For my son. For their sons.”

Seeing Floyd take his last breath on the video, Williams said, is pushing her and others to raise their voices for change.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protestors demonstrated peacefully in downtown Iowa City on Saturday afternoon in solidarity with Floyd.

Young female organizers led the rally in downtown Iowa City, bolstered by local black elected officials, some of whom said the rioting that has followed Floyd’s death may be justified, if it brings about change.

Supervisor Royceann Porter, the only black member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, was one of a number of local leaders to take the mic.

“All these people around here talking about the rioting. If that’s what it takes, if that’s what it takes, then so be it, dammit! Then so be it!” Porter yelled as people cheered. “I’m not for rioting, but if that’s what’s going to get y’all’s attention? If that’s what’s going to bring charges, then dammit, we’ll tear it down. We will shut it down!”

Floyd’s killing last Monday, which was captured on video, and the passing of several days before the arrest of former officer Derek Chauvin, has sparked protests in cities across the country, some of which have devolved into violence and looting. Chauvin was arrested Friday, and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

In Iowa City, hundreds rallied at the Pentacrest, a greenspace on the University of Iowa’s downtown campus, and on adjacent Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue, portions of which city officials had blocked off to vehicle traffic for the event.

Protestors carried signs labeled “White Silence = Violence”, “Enough is Enough”, and “Being Black Shouldn’t Be a Death Sentence”.

They chanted “black lives matter”, “stop the violence, stop the hate” and “f*** the police state."

The vast majority of ralliers wore face masks to protect against the coronavirus, which state officials say is still at a level of “substantial spread." At least one volunteer handed out masks throughout the crowd, and speakers urged them to stay 6 feet away from one another.

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague, who is black, told the crowd that they were “breaking the law” by participating in a mass gathering before Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation expires on Sunday. But Teague said the protestors were taking necessary action to recognize what is the latest high-profile killing of a black man by a police officer.

“That was an intentional act,” Teague said. “That was murder. Not third degree, but first degree.”

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that police use of force is a leading cause of death among young men, and that young men of color face “exceptionally high risk of being killed by police."

In 2018 in Iowa, “homicide and legal intervention” (which includes deadly interactions with law enforcement) was the second leading cause of death among black males between the ages of 5 and 24, according to state statistics. It was the third leading cause of death for black men aged 25 to 44.

For some organizers and attendees, the rally, and the anger that is awakening in cities across the nation, is about more than the killing of Floyd, but about the many killings of people of color, and a pattern of racial injustice that predates the country itself.

When organizer Lujayn Hamad took the mic, she directed a line of questioning at white people.

“Where do you limit black growth in your day to day lives? In work, in school, in churches, in the public?” Hamad asked. “Do you check your racist family members? Do you use your body…do you use your body and your privilege to protect black bodies?” she asked as people cheered.

After the Iowa City rally, Hamad and her sister and co-organizer Raneem, along with other activists, drove to Minneapolis to join protestors there.

University of Iowa graduates Nakiya Handy and her boyfriend Jason Smith attended the Iowa City rally, despite their concerns about the coronavirus. They described the killing of Floyd as a “blatant” injustice, coming in the midst of global pandemic that is devastating black communities and disproportionately killing people of color.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re trying to go back to normal and it’s like, you’re killing people in the middle of the pandemic,” Smith said. “We’re already battling COVID-19.”

“And on top of that you have to deal with the police brutality that’s happening at the same time,” Handy continued.

Despite the real and immediate risk of the highly contagious virus, calling out the systemic injustices against black Americans was more important, said Smith.

“Ain’t no reason we should be out here having a rally or a protest in the middle of the pandemic, where we don’t know who out here could have the virus. But at the end of the day, it’s bigger than that,” Smith said. “I think that this might have been a shift in the nation.”