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Black Lives Matter Protesters Bring Demands To Iowa Lawmakers, Governor

black lives matter at the iowa capitol
Katarina Sostaric
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, hears from Black Lives Matter organizer Matthew Bruce at the Iowa Capitol on Wednesday.

Black Lives Matter protesters entered the Iowa Capitol Wednesday with a list of demands for state lawmakers and the governor.

They chanted “Where is Kim?” as they tried to get a meeting with the governor and “Let them vote,” in reference to the state’s lifetime disenfranchisement of all Iowans with felony convictions unless they appeal directly to the governor.

The Des Moines BLM group wants lawmakers to pass police reforms, decriminalize cannabis and clear related convictions from Iowans’ records, end juvenile detention, and reject a bill that would limit the secretary of state’s authority to expand voting by mail during the pandemic.

They’re also asking Gov. Kim Reynolds to immediately restore felon voting rights with an executive order. She supports restoring felon voting rights with a constitutional amendment.

Protest leader Matthew Bruce talked with Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. He asked Zaun to support ending juvenile detention, but Zaun said he could not commit to that and wants to study the issue.

“I want to focus on how we can get advocates for racial justice here at the state capitol,” Bruce said.

“I give you my word, you might not get everything you want, but I will advocate for racial justice,” Zaun replied.

“We’re gonna get it all,” Bruce said.

Bruce later said lawmakers don’t seem like they’re ready to do the work of ending racist violence.

“They seem like they’re ready to give us lip service, tell us that they feel our pain,” Bruce said. “But when it comes to actually going in and holding their colleagues to the fire, they seem very, very, very reluctant to actually do work on the issue.”

Protesters also demanded a meeting with Reynolds.

At the same time, Reynolds was holding a news conference and was asked about the protesters’ demands.

Reynolds said she is committed to listening.

“I don’t know if they’ve specifically asked for a meeting with us but I’ve made it very clear—throughout the week we’ve met with community leaders to talk about how we can move forward,” Reynolds said. 

Asked to respond, Bruce said, “She’s not checking her email.”

“We showed up at her actual house, and guess who greeted us? Not Kim Reynolds—the police,” Bruce said, referencing a recent march to the governor’s mansion.

On Wednesday, Reynolds’ staff directed the Des Moines BLM group to go through an online process to make an appointment.

Reynolds on Wednesday also said she had good conversations with Republicans and Democrats over the past three days about police reforms proposed by Democrats.

“My hope is that we can stand before Iowans and have a bill that is unanimously passed and signed by the governor,” Reynolds said.

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, expressed concerns to protesters and Zaun that the proposed police reforms would be watered down.

“What we proposed earlier this week was a full loaf,” Smith said. “And right now what we got is about half.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter