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Iowa Officials: Violence Caused By Few Who 'Hijacked' Largely Peaceful Protests

ako abdul samad
John Pemble
Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad speaks at a news conference about the George Floyd protests in front of the Iowa Capitol on Monday.

State and local officials held a press conference Monday to discuss the protests across Iowa in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and against racial injustice and police brutality.

“We’re here to stand united as Iowans and as Americans, united in grief and anger, over the unsettling and criminal act of violence that robbed George Floyd of his rights and his life on a street in Minneapolis,” Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday.

Thousands of Iowans turned out for peaceful demonstrations against racial injustice over the weekend and into Monday. But there were some instances of violence that ended in two people being killed in Davenport, a police officer was shot, there was property damage in some cities, and police in Des Moines used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters.

Reynolds said the peaceful protesters had a powerful message, but condemned the few who turned violent. She said she supports some local governments’ decisions to institute curfews.

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, has been at the demonstrations in the city. He said almost all of the protesters were peaceful, but a small number “hijacked the message.”

“We won’t let you hijack our message,”Abdul-Samad said. “And you need to take that out of Iowa because Iowans have come together, to stand together, and to make sure you can’t hijack what we have.”

He said this is an opportunity for systemic change.

“Iowa nice is not going to be a buzz term,” Abdul-Samad said. “We’re going to make it a reality.”

Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty Andrews encouraged Iowans to peacefully protest racial injustice and help turn that into policy changes.

She said COVID-19 has spotlighted a lot of racial disparities, but it’s not the only issue facing communities of color. She said it’s a perfect time to raise awareness of “the legacy of oppression” of African-Americans.

“Join with us as we work with our officials to bring change,” Andrews said. “To go from protest and bring alongside with that policy. Because we need to change the core. We need to address this legacy that started with America’s greatest sin—racism, slavery, and all of its babies that have come since.”

Andrews also encouraged Iowans to vote in the June 2 primary.

Reynolds said she is committed to listening and having “uncomfortable conversations” about addressing injustices.

IPR asked Reynolds if she believes this will truly be a catalyst for change when solutions to bias in policing have been discussed for years.

“It’s not just about listening,” Reynolds said. “It’s about then taking action, but making sure it’s impactful action, that it’s actually making a difference. That it’s not just change for the sake of change.”

Democratic leaders in Iowa are calling on the Republican-led legislature to address racial disparities in various areas during the legislative session that re-starts Wednesday.

Reynolds previously formed a committee on criminal justice reform, but it’s not clear if lawmakers will pass their recommendations. The NAACP has also worked with lawmakers over the past few years on an anti-racial profiling bill, but it hasn’t passed.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter