Ferguson Grand Jury Decision Sparks Protests

As the sun was setting behind The Old Capitol, people gathered, tentatively at first, in a semi-circle on the pentacrest. Many held hand-lettered signs with slogans such as ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ and ‘Black lives matter.’

“Let me be clear about why we are here,” Venson Curington, a graduate student at the University of Iowa, addressed the crowd with a megaphone. “I am here and you are here because we believe that black lives matter, and we believe in justice for Mike Brown, which was  not delivered yesterday.”

According to the Facebook page, ‘No Indictment Planning #Ferguson,’ the the 5 p.m. peaceful protest was planned in solidarity with the Ferguson community, due the the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown. This news motivated many new faces to join the protest, one being City High student, Chuck Johnson ‘17.

“When I heard on the news about what happened with [Darren Wilson], I thought it was wrong, and so I came to protest that,” Johnson said of the verdict.

Fredrick Newell, a friend of Johnson and a University of Iowa student, attended the protest in support of the Ferguson community.

“ I’m just standing with the community, letting Ferguson know that we support them as well.” he said.

I ame here and you are here because we believe that black lives matter, and we believe in justice for Mike Brown.

— Venson Curington

As the group, more than 200 strong, gained momentum, protesters decided to march in the street down to the Iowa City police department. Latisha McDaniel, one of the leaders of the protest and member of an organization called the Community Policing Initiative, hopes that one of the outcomes of public demonstration and ongoing discussion will be changes in the Iowa City police department.

“[Reforming the police department] is the goal,” McDaniel said. “Right now we’re talking about basic stuff like trying to get rid of the MRAP policies, procedures, when and where to use excessive force.”

The core message of the organization is to change law enforcement policies in Iowa City. This intention strikes a chord with many of the protesters, who are empathetic towards Brown because they believe they share unwanted attention from police officers.

“I’ve seen police pull over people just because they’re black, and they thought that they were doing something wrong,” Johnson said. “It’s never happened to me, but it’s happened to my friends.”

One of the ways that McDaniel and the Community Policing Initiative hopes to reform this kind of profiling in policing is through talking with officials in their weekly meetings about improving transparency and accountability in the Iowa City Police Department. She believes that one solution that could improve the accountability of officers would be through the use of body cameras.

“When people know that they’re being filmed, they act in a different way. They act in a different manner,” McDaniel said. “[body cameras] could help give police some kind of accountability.”

According to McDaniel, her organization was just one of many represented in the protest. Others included Veterans for Peace and The Black Voices Project. More still were independent activists such as Newell and Johnson, who hope that change can be brought on by public demonstrations themselves.

“I do think that over time I will be able to make a difference in my community by participating in events like this,” Newell said.

While McDaniel and other protesters are upset with the policies and actions of some law enforcement officers, they say that it doesn’t have to be this way.Some, including McDaniel, have lived in situations very much the opposite.

“I came from Dallas and in the neighborhood where I lived in, we had a really good relationship with our police officers,” McDaniels said. “We’d do like meet and greets where we’d do a ‘meet a police night’ and stuff like that. We’d go shake their hands, talk to them and tell them about the neighborhood.”

McDaniel doesn’t  take an issue with policemen themselves, but with some of the actions they take.

“Just bring it back to community. There’s nothing wrong with policemen, it’s just that being stalked and harassed by the people who are supposed to be keeping us safe doesn’t feel right,” She said.

In addition to being unhappy about actions of law enforcement, many protesters were also upset about the grand jury decision which sparked their action in the first place.

”The fact that [Darren Wilson] is not even going to be going through the court of law, that that process is not going to happen just seems wrong.” McDaniels said. “It seems like the country and the process that we have created for this country are being thrown out the window. There’s a reason why we have a criminal justice system.”

Curington, however, is concerned also about what will happen in the future, beyond this particular case.

“There are cities across the world who convened yesterday and now today in solidarity and to mourn,” Curington said through the megaphone. “My hope would actually be to build a coalition around sustained action, for the next week after, and the month after, and the year after. How can we make sure that there’s no Mike Brown in this particular city?”