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Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission asks city leaders to act with ‘urgency’ in supporting protesters’ priorities

Published: Jun. 19, 2020 at 5:00 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Cedar Rapids City Council announced Thursday that it would be holding a special meeting Friday to discuss and possibly draft “a statement supporting Black Lives Matter priorities.”

Advocates for Social Justice, the group leading recent protests in Cedar Rapids, have called for the city to bring about seven changes: form an independent citizen’s review board; make significant investments in diversity, equity, and inclusion; ban chokeholds, knee-to-neck maneuvers and strengthen use of force standards; decriminalize minor marijuana crimes and other low-level offenses; impose strict body camera provisions; make negotiations between law enforcement and municipal representatives public; and abolish qualified immunity.

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, the Advocates for Social Justice picked up a major endorsement for their goals from the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, which voted Wednesday to send letters of support to the city council, Mayor Brad Hart, and Police Chief Wayne Jerman.

“This is a moment in time when the world is watching. The world sees the injustice. The world sees the racism at its core,” Incoming Commission Chair Anthony Arrington said.

Arrington abstained from the vote because he worked with the Advocates for Social Justice to develop their priorities for the city.

But he said the commission taking this kind of action is rare.

In the past, Arrington said the group may have taken a more neutral approach, not wanting its actions to be interpreted as “political.”

“I think the commissioners who voted in favor of this, again, looked at it from the view of a civil rights lens and didn’t view this from a political lens,” he said.

Commission Executive Director Stefanie Munsterman-Scriven said when the leaders of these protests asked commissioners to support them, they had a responsibility.

“It’s not just this small group of people who are going to these meetings,” she said. “It’s the thousands of people that showed up at those rallies, and they’re asking for this change. For us to sit on our hands and not respond would be irresponsible.”

Now it’s up to the city council on what to do next. Its virtual meeting Friday starts at 1 p.m.

In the letters to council members, the Civil Rights Commission asked them “to act with a sense of urgency to meet these priorities.”

“I’m afraid that if we don’t move quickly enough, or if we spread things out in ways that can happen in bureaucracy, that we can lose that momentum, and then things might get dropped,” Munsterman-Scriven said.

“The hope is that the city’s listening and that they will act fast,” Arrington added. “I think the city has the best interests in mind, but speed is of the essence.”

Copyright 2020 KCRG. All rights reserved.

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