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City of Cedar Rapids says it’ll work with Advocates for Social Justice, but group and its supporters call for a greater role in developing citizen review board

Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 11:46 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The City of Cedar Rapids said Tuesday that getting opinions from people of color will be critical as it establishes a citizen review board as it promised.

But 11 people told city council members during their meeting Tuesday that’s not enough, and that the Advocates for Social Justice, a Black Lives Matter group in Cedar Rapids, should have a seat at the table during those talks.

“Please reengage with Advocates for Social Justice. Heed their recommendations,” Brianna Young of Cedar Rapids said during the virtual city council meeting.

“I would behoove this city to have the ASJ heavily involved,” Cedar Rapids resident Chad Cooper echoed.

“There’s no other group of folks that are more committed to making sure that this process is done right than the group from ASJ,” Lindsey Ellickson added during the meeting.

The creation of the board has become a flashpoint between the city and the Advocates for Social Justice, who listed the board’s establishment as one of their seven demands related to criminal justice reform.

On Tuesday, the City of Cedar Rapids said the Advocates for Social Justice will play a role in this process, but Assistant Director of Community Development & Planning Bill Michael said the group will be one of many diverse voices needed to contribute to this work.

“We need to and will amplify voices from those most impacted in minority groups, and we’re looking for diverse age ranges and experiences within those groups,” Michael said.

Michael and Community Development & Planning Director Jennifer Pratt gave a presentation to council members on the public engagement process to develop the citizen review board.

They said city staff will get public input on how the board should work over the next two months before presenting the results of that feedback and making their recommendations to the council on Sept. 22.

“We will be putting out a survey at the end of this month, conducting focus groups, research, as I’ve mentioned, and having discussions with key stakeholders,” Michael said.

But the Advocates for Social Justice said they don’t just want to be a contributor — they want to be the city’s partner on this.

“We didn’t just come with an ad hoc idea,” Advocates for Social Justice member Anthony Arrington said. “We’ve done research, we put time and effort in, and we believe we ought to be leading this effort alongside our city officials.”

The Advocates put that research and work into a brief with 11 recommendations for the citizen review board, which they released Monday.

The group developed it after conducting research into already established citizens review boards across the country and their practices, along with interviews with people it characterized as “leading experts with experience in developing and overseeing CRBs,” including the general counsel to the City of Oakland Police Commission and leaders from the NAACP and the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, or NACOLE.

They said city staff repeating that work is wasting time.

“It is frustrating to keep hearing, ‘Wait, we’re working on it. Wait. Wait.’ How long must we wait?” asked Dedric Doolin, the branch president of the Cedar Rapids NAACP.

The Advocates sent their recommendations to the council on Monday, but no council members mentioned the recommendations at Tuesday’s meeting.

Pratt said her department would be meeting with the Advocates for Social Justice regularly during this process and that the group would assist them in previewing the surveys and focus groups they plan to conduct.

Council member Ashley Vanorny, who has voiced her support for the Advocates for Social Justice and was the only council member to attend their forum on July 18, encouraged Cedar Rapids residents to give their input, which they can submit on the city’s website.

“It’s really important that we try to cast as wide a net as possible to make sure that we hear from everybody who has had those interactions that might have a voice to share,” she said.

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