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Police, Black Lives Matter Protesters Accuse Each Other Of Starting Violence At Iowa Capitol

capitol protest arrests
Katarina Sostaric
Des Moines police and other law enforcement officers arrested at least 17 protesters at the Iowa Capitol, where physical altercations broke out on Wednesday.

Des Moines police and state troopers arrested at least 17 Black Lives Matter protesters at the Iowa Capitol Wednesday, where violent physical altercations broke out between law enforcement and protesters. Both sides are accusing each other of causing the violence.

Black Lives Matter activists were inside the Capitol in the early afternoon for a planned protest to urge Gov. Kim Reynolds to restore felon voting rights by executive order before July 4. BLM protesters have held several nonviolent protests inside the Iowa Capitol in recent weeks and met twice with Reynolds.

On Wednesday, they chanted, “How do you spell racist? Iowa State Patrol,” as state troopers, some of whom are stationed at the capitol, watched. IPR did not observe any violent actions at that time.

A statement from Des Moines Black Lives Matter says state patrol officers were holding photos of protesters from previous events.

“They were looking for members of our movement in the crowd, in an attempt to arrest them and incite fear,” the Des Moines BLM statement reads.

Then, Des Moines police and state troopers arrested organizer Jasmine Johnson, 19, for criminal mischief charges related to a protest at a Des Moines Hy-Vee on June 20.

Some protesters—including organizer Matthew Bruce, who turned himself in last week when he was accused of vandalizing a police car—stood in front of law enforcement officers as they walked Johnson through the building. She repeatedly told the two officers who were holding her arms while she was handcuffed that they were hurting her.

“Let go. I have handcuffs on. I can’t do anything,” Johnson said. “You’re holding me too tight and it hurts. Let go of me.”

Officers put Johnson in a room in the Capitol, and protesters yelled and chanted at the state troopers stationed outside the door. Another person under the age of 18 was also detained in that room, according to protesters.

When law enforcement officers started to walk Johnson out of the building, the protesters followed. There appeared to be about three dozen protesters there at the time.

Video shows Bruce and at least two other protesters walking backwards in front of the multiple officers, while other protesters followed, chanting and asking why Johnson was arrested.

Police then tried to arrest Bruce, and fighting broke out. But it’s not clear exactly how the physical altercations started.

A statement from the Des Moines Police Department says “several people in the crowd began to assault the officers” as they tried to arrest Bruce.

“Violent physical attempts were made to pull the arrestees from the custody of the police officers,” the DMPD statement reads. “The police officers were also pushed, pulled, hit and jumped on.”

Des Moines BLM disputes DMPD’s account.

“DMPD arrived and acted extremely aggressive towards protesters,” the statement from Des Moines BLM reads. “Another one of our organizers was grabbed by officers and our protesters began to de-arrest them. De-arresting a fellow protester is a non-violent response to what is often a violent act by law enforcement. This is done by pulling protesters away from officers in an effort to protect them.”

BLM said law enforcement officers "became violent." 

Police officers tackled a protester to the ground. Others tried to pull that protester away from police, and some were trying to push officers away from her.

One protester jumped on the back of a police officer and tackled him, with his arm around the officer’s neck. The DMPD says the officer’s handgun fell away in the struggle, but the officer was able to recover it.

Dozens more law enforcement officers arrived at the Capitol lawn. Some pushed protesters and used pepper spray.

“Two Black women were put into chokeholds and one was slammed up against the side of a van, causing injury,” Des Moines BLM said in a statement. The group accused law enforcement of using “unnecessary force” to arrest protesters.

As officers arrested more people, protesters continued to try to pull them away from the officers.

“The crowd continued to be aggressive with law enforcement officers,” the DMPD statement reads. “Nearly 50 law enforcement officers from the DMPD, Iowa State Patrol, and other state law enforcement agencies were required to restore order.”

Police formed a line and started pushing a line of protesters back, and made a few more arrests.

Then the Iowa State Patrol read a dispersal order, and protesters quickly left the Capitol grounds. Some went to the Polk County Jail to await the release of those who were arrested.

DMPD said three of the people arrested, including Johnson, were arrested for criminal mischief charges related to the Hy-Vee protest.

Others arrested at the Capitol Wednesday were charged with assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct and interfering with official acts. According to DMPD, at least two minors were arrested.

IPR asked DMPD Sgt. Paul Parizek if they considered that arresting organizers at a protest for charges from a previous incident could lead to a conflict.

“It didn’t start a conflict,” Parizek said. “It didn’t start a conflict until we tried to take them out of the building.”

Parizek said at least one of the protesters was given a chance to turn herself in but did not do so. 

Des Moines BLM said all protesters arrested Wednesday were bailed out of jail with help from the DSM Mutual Aid Fund.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter