Speakers Demand Des Moines City Council Remove Officers, Others at Center of Police De-Escalation Training Controversy

Prepared activists took their concerns about police to the Des Moines City Council meeting in 25-second increments.

More than 70 people — many of whom are local activists — signed up to speak during the Des Moines City Council’s virtual meeting on Monday. They want city and police officials at the center of a de-escalation training controversy to be removed.

The controversy stems from the revelation that Des Moines Police Sgt. Michael Fong, who was disciplined in an excessive force lawsuit that cost the city $800,000 to settle, trains other officers on a de-escalation team — with city officials’ approval, according to the Des Moines Register. Activists have called for Fong’s removal and the removal of Sean O'Neill, another officer on the de-escalation team who cost the city $25,000 to settle a racial profiling lawsuit, the Register reported.

A constant during Monday’s meeting — a clerk saying “time” right before she cut each speaker off at the council’s 25-second time limit during the virtual meeting streamed on YouTube.

Several speakers called for removing the officers and removing City Manager Scott Sanders and Police Chief Dana Wingert, as well as decriminalizing marijuana and establishing a citizens review board, among other demands.

“As you can see there's 75 people that have showed up to this meeting with legitimate concerns, real concerns. I want to call out and say that we need to do right by the community's concerns, do right by people's hearts and do right by citizens and residents of Des Moines. People are living in fear, and we have to do and answer to their concerns. Extend the talking time, and also please --,” said Justyn Lewis, a city council candidate, before being cut off.

“Defund and abolish the Des Moines Police Department. They're violent and racist. We do not need them. They do not keep us safe. We keep us safe,” said Jaylen Cavil, chair of the advocacy department of the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement, who called for firing Sanders, decriminalizing marijuana, and told the city to act on its previous task force recommendations.

Mark Bequeaith asked the council to remove the two officers from the de-escalation training.

“It undermines the credibility and efficacy of these efforts. This community is requiring the city council to really be leaders. Iowa needs urban leaders. You guys are it,” he said. “You can't be intimidated by the Des Moines Police Department strategy. You need to take them under your control and our control.”

“It's really disrespectful that you made me sit through an hour of this to talk for 25 seconds,” said Jaime Izaguirre. “You need to remove O’Neill. You need to remove Fong. You need to get off your asses and stop letting Scott Sanders govern for you. Do something like we’ve elected you to do.”

Suzanne Stewart said the short de-escalation training course combined with “the choice of trainers who have a history of using excessive force reflects a serious lack of respect for the needs of the community. The city needs to --.”

At least one speaker voiced support for the police.

“We are not defunding the police, so get over it,” said Debra Howell.

“The way you run these meetings is white supremacist and violent. You say we're disrupting city business, but the city’s business is our business, and our business is eliminating racism and inequity in this city. What is yours?” said Indira Sheumaker, a city council candidate.

Janice Hawkins, of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s Racial Justice Team, said: “Two of the five-person de-escalation training team have shown, while on active duty, how to not de-escalate a situation. This would not be accepted in the private sector. Why here? The community is telling you that Chief Wingert and Scott Sanders are demonstrating impaired judgment on this matter.”

During the ‘Back the Black’ rally held Saturday outside city hall, activists said the council’s 25-second time limit was a tactic to stop them from voicing their concerns to city officials. During the rally, they also called for the firings, among other demands.

Closing arguments ended today in the Derek Chauvin murder trial. The jury is deliberating the charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

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