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Opponents of ‘Back the Blue’ bill question intentions as proponents push for more support for law enforcement

Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 6:18 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -A “Back the Blue” bill advancing in the state legislature has some opponents calling it a step back, while lawmakers supporting the bill believe it’s necessary legislation to support law enforcement.

People gathered in protest all over the country following the death of George Floyd last May, including Eastern Iowa. In Cedar Rapids, thousands laid down in First Avenue downtown. In Iowa City, protestors made their way onto Interstate 80 more than once. State lawmakers are pushing to increase penalties for people who gather in streets or highways moving forward as part of the ‘Back the Blue’ bill.

Republican Rep. Jared Klein, of Washington County, sponsored the legislation.

“Those penalties will be hopefully severe enough to help deter any future problems like that because what we see when they march on the highways, those are dangerous situations for everybody involved,” Klein said.

The bill also protects drivers who hit protestors in the streets from civil liability in certain cases. For example, a driver who exercises “due care” when driving and injures a demonstrator whose blocking traffic in a public street or highway “shall be immune from civil liability.” It does not protect drivers who are being reckless or “willful misconduct.” More detail can be found on page 28 of the 33-page legislation.

Members of Advocates for Social Justice, who have lead multiple protests in Cedar Rapids believe the bill is direct retaliation to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“To us it’s the epitome of systematic racism, right, they’re bills that are made to limit protestors rights,” Angelina Ramirez, a member of the organization, said.

Klein said he supports peaceful protests but this bill is about showing support for law enforcement and encouraging more officers to come to Iowa to work through benefits like sick leave insurance programs and qualified immunity.

“We have record low number of people applying for Iowa Highway Patrol, Department of Public Safety, we have to reverse that trend,” Klein said.

Those against the bill believe it has other intentions and they want changes to it, such as a ban on racial profiling.

“They’re disregarding amendments being called for by black and brown constituents like the NAACP and the ACLU just point to the fact that their actual goal isn’t to protect the integrity of law enforcement, to black and brown constituents, it’s to harm them,” Ramirez said.

Members of Advocates for Social Justice said that if the bill passes, they won’t be deterred from gathering in peaceful protest.

“There’s no way that we’ll stop you know meeting in the streets if these bills get passed,” Harold Walehwa said.

The bill is off to the Iowa Senate where Republicans hold a stronger majority than the house. if it passes there, the bill will go to Gov. Kim Reynolds where it could be signed into law.

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