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Black Lives Matter Protesters In Des Moines Say Police Boxed Them In Before Making Arrests

Demonstrators in Des Moines hold signs supporting the Black Lives Matter movement at a march on June 3, 2020.
John Pemble
Demonstrators in Des Moines hold signs supporting the Black Lives Matter movement at a march on June 3.

Des Moines Black Lives Matter activists say law enforcement officers boxed them in at a protest Monday night, preventing them from leaving, and then arrested 18 protesters for failing to follow orders to disperse.

“We were planning to do a nonviolent march downtown, then come right back up to our cars and go home,” said BLM organizer Jaylen Cavil at another protest outside the Polk County Jail Wednesday.

BLM activists said police pushed them off of their planned protest route Monday night and into a dark residential neighborhood.

“They boxed us in from an alleyway and three streets,” said Matthew Bruce, a lead BLM organizer. “They closed the box in. And as they started closing the box in, then they gave the dispersal orders.”

The protesters are accusing law enforcement of “kettling,” which is the controversial police tactic of blocking off streets and forcing people into a confined area. Some said law enforcement officers also used pepper spray and pushed protesters with shields Monday night.

“What they did to us was the sickest, most disgusting thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life,” Bruce said.

“There was always an avenue for protesters to remove themselves to avoid arrest,” Des Moines Police Department spokesperson Paul Parizek said in a statement.

Parizek did not directly answer a question from IPR about whether DMPD believes protesters did anything illegal or violent Monday night before they were ordered to disperse.

“Our position has been clear from the beginning,” Parizek said. “Peaceful protest is welcome and supported but disorderly conduct, disruption of peaceful neighborhoods, and destruction of property has an expiration date. It won’t be allowed to continue.” 

Activists accused Parizek of lying about Monday night.

Iowa State Patrol spokesperson Alex Dinkla said kettling tactics were not used, and that “ample time” was given for protesters to follow dispersal orders.

But ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said in a statement the organization is in touch with eyewitnesses to Monday night’s protest and police response.

“There are credible accounts of police action in violation of the constitutional guarantee of free speech, including ‘kettling’ and the use of excessive force on nonviolent protesters including a child, media, and a legal observer,” Bettis Austen said.

She added the ACLU is considering litigation.

“It’s clear to us that law enforcement leadership is failing to keep officers in line and communicate clearly to them that their role is to protect protesters’ ability to exercise their free speech rights—not to punish protesters for challenging police brutality and racism,” Bettis Austen said.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter