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Group Calls for Racial Equality Conversation in Iowa City

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Trayvon Martin case brought together Iowans Wednesday to start a conversation. It came on the same day that the Florida teenager's dad told some members of Congress Trayvon's legacy must help others like him.

"I vow to do everything in my power not to give up the fight for him. Not only the fight for Trayvon, but the fight for so many other young black and brown boys in this country," said Tracy Martin.

Martin spoke to the newly formed caucus for black men and boys. Earlier this month, a Florida jury found George Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. That sparked protests claiming racial injustice. Now Trayvon's father and others want to turn that rallying cry into a meaningful dialogue.

About 100 people gathered at Iowa City's Ped Mall Wednesday evening in memory of Trayvon Martin, but it wasn't a rally or protest. No one held signs or wore hoodies. This group just wanted to talk, specifically about racial inequities in Johnson County.

"I don't think it's a stretch to think that something like what happened to Trayvon Martin could very easily happen here in our community," said Megan Schwalm with the Coalition for Racial Justice.

The group released a study Tuesday showing concerning numbers for African Americans locally. It showed African American unemployment rates in the county are three times higher than Johnson County as a whole. Plus, black juveniles are more than six times as likely to be arrested as white teens.

People like Bridgett Holmes came to the gathering to put a stop to racial profiling. She claimed a few weeks ago police officers served a warrant at her Iowa City house because of a mistaken identity.

"I don't do nothing here in Iowa. My house didn't have nothing to do with none of this. Yet they came and they tore my whole house up," said Holmes.

To help get the ball rolling toward change, people like Amanda Gallogly passed around pledge sheets. Those who signed were asked to do things like volunteer, or something as simple as talk to one other person about the importance of racial equality.

"Hopefully keeping that energy going, so the people who come here tonight don't forget when they go home they need to keep working on this stuff," said Gallogly.

Organizers admitted the event wouldn't solve Johnson County's issues. But they said it's a step in the right direction.

"We're hoping this is a forum where people can start talking about it," said Schwalm.

Johnson County isn't different than much of Iowa or the nation when it comes to racial inequality. You can find similar disparities in employment and education about anywhere.

The group Wednesday said to start talking about the issues, not just in Johnson County, but on a national level, too.

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