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Protesters March To Des Moines Mayor's Home Where He Pledges To Work With Them

More than 1,000 protesters crowded in front of Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie’s house Wednesday night, demanding reforms to policing and changes in policies toward protesters. It happened on the sixth consecutive day of civil unrest in communities across Iowa sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Protesters marched nearly three hours, shouting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and carrying signs, some of which said “This didn’t start with George Floyd.” The crowd wound through residential streets in an upscale neighborhood on the west side of the city before stopping in front of Cownie’s home.

The mayor walked through a line of police officers wearing plastic masks and holding shields in order to speak with organizers. Cownie thanked the crowd for marching peacefully through the neighborhoods.

“I hear your hearts. I hear your pain. I thank you for doing it in a peaceful way,” Cownie said.

He said he would support the issues they raised, including passing an anti-racial profiling ordinance for Des Moines police. He said the proposal would be brought back before the city council at its meeting Monday.

Cownie agreed to urge Gov. Kim Reynolds to restore felon voting rights through an executive order. He also said he would talk with Polk County officials about releasing people arrested during peaceful protests as well as ending the nightly curfew. But, he said, it would be up to the demonstrators to not allow others to “hijack” their movement by instigating violence or vandalism.

“We can’t risk the lives of our citizens, or any of you, or the property damage and then get it blamed on all of you,” Cownie said.

“Today was a huge victory for the movement to value black lives, but we have so far to go,” said Matthew Bruce, one of the protest organizers. “We have to start to take away lethal force. We have to start moving those resources into housing and health care. We have to end juvenile detention and put that money into education and mental health.”

Bruce also mentioned decriminalizing marijuana and defunding the police department.

Cownie called it the first of many discussions. “We’re going to keep exchanging ideas, because the solutions to 400 years of problems aren’t going to happen in one night.”

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa