Iowa City Council agrees to initial commitments in response to protests, including restructuring police department, dropping protesters’ charges

Updated: Jun. 17, 2020 at 7:20 AM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - More than two weeks of protests in Iowa City led up to Tuesday night, when the city council discussed, debated, and committed to changes in the city, based in large part on protesters’ demands.

The virtual council meeting, which lasted nearly four-and-a-half hours, ended after 11 p.m., when council members approved a 17-point resolution of initial commitments in a 7-0 vote.

Mayor Bruce Teague said that resolution was based on recent conversations between members of the public and the city council, but a bulk of the items were based on demands from the Iowa Freedom Riders, the group leading recent protests in Iowa City.

“I’m excited,” Teague said near the end of the meeting. “We’re not all the way there, don’t get me wrong, but this is amazing.”

Among the major commitments to come out of the meeting, council members decided to develop a plan by Dec. 15, 2020, to restructure the Iowa City Police Department toward a community-policing model, which would not mean getting rid of the police department. According to the draft of the resolution, that restructuring would include, but not be limited to, “reduction of the public’s reliance on police in non-violent situations through use of unarmed professionals, and consideration of community policing initiatives in other cities.”

“The use of police who appear with force, those who are armed, we’ve identified as a significant impediment to the feeling of safety and trust in whatever the city model is for public safety,” At-Large Council Member Laura Bergus said.

In a separate resolution, the council also approved an 18th commitment, to request the County Attorney drop charges related to the protests against protesters. Bergus, who is an attorney, abstained from the 6-0 vote.

“Given the circumstances, there was unacceptable behavior being performed, and we see it all the time. We see it for football games here. When there’s football games, there’s allotment and acceptance of behaviors that just would not be tolerated any other time, and of course, once the game is over, things are back to normal,” Teague said.

Among other initial commitments, the council also agreed to: allocating $1 million in city funds in the upcoming fiscal year “for efforts to promote racial equity and social justice,” including the creation of a new affordable housing plan; soliciting and receiving an independent report by August on the events of the June 3 protest in Iowa City, during which law enforcement officers set off gas and flashbangs on protesters; prohibiting the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and flashbangs toward peaceful protesters; establishing a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” by Oct. 1, 2020, to collect testimony and oversee public hearings on racial injustice in Iowa City and recommend follow-up actions for the city council; and declaring Juneteenth a holiday in the City of Iowa City by swapping it with an existing holiday, a late request from council member Janice Weiner.

At times when the council debated the wording of certain proposals in the resolution, Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih and Bergus encouraged the group to adhere to the demands presented by the Iowa Freedom Riders, some of whom reiterated those demands during the first hour of the meeting, in a public comment period.

City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes said the final version of the reworded resolution, with the changes approved by the council, would most likely be released Wednesday.

“Take your time,” Salih said.

“We want to make sure it’s right,” Weiner echoed.

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