Iowa After Floyd: Protests, Police & Politics

One year after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, Iowans “Back the Blue.”

Why wouldn’t Derek Chauvin just listen?

Why would the ex-Minneapolis police officer — in the face of pleading from bystanders Darnella Frazier, Genevieve Hansen, Donald Williams and so many others — continue kneeling on George Floyd’s neck and grinding his knee into Floyd so maliciously until Floyd’s life faded away?

Because he could.

Being a white police officer meant Chauvin could brutalize people of color and still collect a paycheck and a pension and avoid any real sanctions for his long history of complaints. Until now.

Chauvin’s bravado, machoism and unspeakable cruelty outside Cup Foods on May 25, 2020, sent a message to rookies Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng that Black people are inconsequential pawns to be abused, managed and discarded at their will. All the while, police veteran Tou Thao, stood guard, made excuses and rejected the repeated appeals from bystanders that Floyd’s life mattered. Because it didn’t matter to them.

A new PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found just 25% of whites say people of color are treated more harshly by police, compared with 61% of Blacks. Statistics from Mapping Police Violence show Blacks are 3 times more likely than whites to be killed by the police. When Blacks interact with the police, far too many whites are unequivocal in their beliefs: Police are always right, Blacks are always in the wrong. At least that’s the way it appears. Whites can hold compassion for Kyle Rittenhouse who took his AR-15-style rifle to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and allegedly killed two people at a Jacob Blake protest. They saw the hordes of white insurrectionists who scaled the US Capitol as harmless. But true compassion for Floyd? Think again.

Say his name: George Perry Floyd Jr. I wish his life would never have intersected with Chauvin, Thao, Kueng and Lane. I wish we didn’t know his name and that he was simply living his life in Minnesota, able to breathe and have the hope that comes with each new day. I wish his life had mattered as much as his death.

I thought about that earlier this month when I stood at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue near the spot at George Floyd Square where Floyd told those murderous cops he could not breathe. But it didn’t matter to them. It didn’t matter to the Iowans who today on social media underneath news stories disparaged Floyd and blamed him for his own demise — despite cellphone video and Chauvin’s murder conviction to the contrary.

A jury convicted Chauvin of all three charges for his role in Floyd’s killing, and he’ll be sentenced this summer. The other three officers are slated to be tried early next spring.

During the year since his killing, protests against police brutality have irked some, inspired others yet failed to bring about many of the changes protesters here and across the nation wanted; And in the fight, they endured injuries and numerous arrests. Some were killed.

During an already tumultuous year caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Mapping Police Violence tells a startling story. According to the database:

  • Blacks make up 13% of the US population, but 28% of those killed by police.

  • There have only been six days in 2021 where the police didn’t kill anyone.

  • Police killed Blacks at rates higher than whites in 47 of 50 of the largest US cities.

  • Police have killed a staggering 414 people so far this year.

In Des Moines, a police sergeant at the center of two police brutality cases — one the city settled for $800,000 — conducted de-escalation training for the department. City officials who initially balked at calls to remove the officer agreed Monday to outsource the training after widespread public condemnation.

Just Voices, which tracks racial profiling in Des Moines and Iowa, has found pervasive problems with Des Moines police: 

  • 40% of officers disproportionately arrest Blacks.

  • Blacks account for 11% of the city’s population but 28% of the citations.

  • Whites receive 12% of the citations but account for 75% of the population.

Des Moines police have denied the allegations.

Iowa made some progress last summer banning most chokeholds and temporarily restoring voting rights to those with past felony convictions, but then a backlash occurred. Iowa could have used the biggest protest movement in decades to make substantive changes on the longstanding racial disparities experienced by Black Iowans, but instead, it chose to “Back the Blue.” Then, Iowa failed to act on legislation to ban racial profiling by the police and collect data from police encounters.

Instead, Iowa lawmakers passed pro-policing legislation that criminalizes certain protest-related offenses and provides more protection to the police. They gave immunity to motorists who hit protesters with their vehicles. They also wasted valuable time trying to prevent discussions about this country’s racist underpinnings. That’s how Iowa’s Republican lawmakers — doing the bidding of their constituents — responded in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder and this country’s so-called racial reckoning.

Protesters of all hues here and across the nation placed their lives on hold and put themselves in harm’s way to push for change and justice. Meanwhile, Iowans griped about blocked city streets and highways, property damage and the lack of order. Protests were largely peaceful.

Never forget that during the fight for Black Iowa lives this past year, many Iowans refused to listen — much like Chauvin did when he knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

Related Stories:

George Floyd Square: ‘Beauty for Ashes’

Jury Renders Guilty Verdict in Derek Chauvin Trial

Derek Chauvin Trial Reopens Wounds, Possibility of Civil Unrest

All I Can Hear is George Floyd

Iowans Must Fight COVID-19 and Police Brutality at the Same Time

‘I Can’t Breathe’

Can’t None of Us Breathe

Black Iowa’s Fight for Its Future

Just Voices: Stats and Stories Don’t Lie

Black Iowa in State of Emergency

Black Iowa News Video from George Floyd Square

Daunte Wright Memorial

‘Back the Black’ Rally Outside Des Moines City Hall 

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