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Cedar Rapids Protesters March, Call For Local Reforms For Second Weekend In A Row

Hundreds of protesters marched in Cedar Rapids Saturday for the second weekend in a row, with organizers calling for the city council to address specific demands, including decriminalizing low level marijuana offenses and making police union negotiations public. The demonstrators got a public vote of confidence from one city councilmember at the rally.

The group Advocates for Social Justice organized the event, which began with a rally in Bever Park, before demonstrators marched down Bever Avenue, then through the middle of 1st Avenue and back again, chanting and waving signs as they went.

Multiple activists and elected officials addressed the crowd as they gathered in the shade in the park on the eastern side of Cedar Rapids. Antonio Chalmers read a poem he said he dedicated to George Floyd, and Rekia Boyd, a 22 year old woman in Chicago who was killed by a police officer in 2012.

“It’s time to come together, can’t take this pain alone. Afraid I’ll do nothing wrong and still won’t make it home,” he said.

In addition to chanting the call and response of messages that have echoed across the country like “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “No Justice, No Peace," the crowd also chanted “Fire Who? Lucas Jones," in reference to a Cedar Rapids police officer who shot Jerime Mitchell during a traffic stop in 2016, paralyzing him from the neck down.

Many area residents, business owners and passersby stopped to watch the protesters march past, chanting. Many filmed the demonstrators, cheering their support or raising a fist in solidarity.

The event is part of the Black Lives Matter movement that is sweeping the country, pushing for nationwide efforts to address racial injustice, discrimination and violence.

The Cedar Rapids activists have been meeting with city leaders to make their case for their local priorities, which include forming an independent police review board; making “significant investments” in diversity, equity and inclusion; banning chokeholds, knee-to-neck maneuvers and strengthening use of force standards; decriminalizing minor marijuana crimes; beefing up body camera policies; making negotiations between police unions and the city public; abolishing qualified immunity.

City Councilmember Dale Todd told the crowd Saturday he stands with them, and supports their efforts in ridding the city of “bad cops." Todd told the protesters to call him personally if they feel an officer has unjustly pulled them over.

After being pressed on the issue by organizer Chuck Crawley, Todd said that he supports the group’s demands.

“If anybody tells you the Cedar Rapids City Council is not on board with these demands, send them to me, ok? We want to get this done. We need your help, but there is no opposition to getting this thing done,” Todd said. “I don’t think we’re going to have another chance to do it. Now is the time.”

On Friday, Police Chief Wayne Jerman had confirmed that city policy now specifically prohibits knee-to-neck maneuvers and chokeholds, with some exceptions. He also committed to establishing a police review board, though the scope and specifics have yet to be set.

The group has been calling for city leaders to address their demands by Juneteenth, the holiday which falls on June 19th, commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.

“We expect answers. We expect change. We expect police reform,” Crawley said.