Mayor Frank Cownie opened the city council meeting with remarks on recent acts of hate in America, and in Iowa.
A sea of red flooded the city council chambers on Nov. 19. Over 50 people wearing red shirts came to support the discussion of item number 40 on the council’s agenda. Item 40 is a request to put a anti-racial profiling ordinance in place in Des Moines.
The tight city council chambers didn’t stop the people of Des Moines from coming out Monday night to rally for their cause. Everyone who came for the ordinance against racial profiling sported red to show the council members just how many people cared about it. The group sent 8 different people up to the podium to speak directly to the council members: Justyn Lewis, Celeste Moore, Harvey Harrison, Herbert Williams, Lori Young, Laural Clinton, Joe Henry and Mark Stringer.
The first person to speak, a young African American college student, Justyn Lewis, was ready for his speech. He spoke with confidence and a passion for his cause.
“I have experienced racial profiling here in Des Moines,” Lewis said. “I am not a gangster, I am not a thug. I’ve been pulled over, I’ve had guns drawn on me when I was a high schooler. I do respect the police, I’m not anti-cop. I do believe there’s people hiding within the system who aren’t great representations of the community.”
Lewis proposed to ban racial profiling in Des Moines. According to him, Iowa is 1 of 20 states that hasn’t yet banned racial profiling.
The next to speak, Celeste Moore, is a mother to sons she worries about living in the city as men of color.
“One way people of color are stopped, is by pretextual stops like a ‘taillight out,’” Moore said. “We want to ban these. People of color are being disproportionately targeted.”
That is what Moore proposed to the council, to ban pretextual stops by police officers of people of color.
At the end of her speech, Moore addressed the council members directly.
“We hope you listen to us from your heart, because we’re frightened,” Moore said.
Herbert Williams, the fourth to speak, told the council of another idea of the group to initiate a citizen review board. This independent body would then review complaints about racial profiling and be heard fairly.
To close out his speech, Williams only had kind words.
“Let’s all live in harmony,” Williams said.
Lori Young, secretary on the board of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (http://iowacci.org/), stood up for her community. She also helps lead a racial justice team for ICCI.
“I am not anti-cop, they do important work,” Young said. “But we also know that everyone has biases and those biases can affect how people of color are viewed as suspicious.”
Laural Clinton is another concerned mother. She spoke of both of her sons being stopped by cops because of their skin color. One her sons was asked if he had a gun or marijuana and he had neither. The video of what happened to her son in Des Moines this summer can be found here: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2018/08/15/iowa-cci-traffic-stop-videos-show-evidence-racially-biased-policing-des-moines-kyle-thies/1001324002/.
Clinton primarily addressed the issue of disproportionate amount of arrests on men of color for marijuana violations. Her proposal was to lower the enforcement of marijuana laws as a priority.
“If not now, when will we make this a priority?” Clinton said. “If not you [city council members], who do we look to to make this a priority?”
In the room, supportive clapter could be heard after each speaker. Echos of cheers from the hallway spilled into the room as people who couldn’t fit into the chamber hooped and hollered their agreements.
Monday night was only the beginning of the process to start putting in place an anti-racial profiling ordinance in Des Moines. All 7 council voted yes to move the motion. The room of red was overjoyed when the secretary announced that it had passed, friends hugged each other as they filed out of the room, victory.