Governor signs racial justice legislation law

Contributed photo Kim Reynolds signs into law a new racial justice bill passed in both Iowa’s chambers unanimously on the steps of Iowa’s Capital as the crowd chants “Black Lives Matter”.

Black Lives Matter protesters have been heard.

In an unprecedented move the Iowa Legislature unanimously voted a new racial justice into law in less than two days.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it into law Friday afternoon. The law will include police reforms that block the use of chokeholds by law enforcement, except when an officer’s life is in danger, and requires de-escalation training.

“This is one of the most important pieces of legislation I’ve had the honor to vote for while in the Iowa House,” said State Rep. Mark Smith (D-Marshalltown) on Twitter.

Smith called the legislation a “starting point” for change in African American communities and said “Our work is far from finished.”

As Reynolds signed the new legislation into law on the steps of Iowa’s Capitol the gathered crowd changed “Black Lives Matter”.

State Rep. Ras Smith (D-Waterloo) and Ako Abdul-Samad (D-Des Moines) who both pushed strongly for the law, stood behind Reynolds as she signed. Though they were wearing masks their smiles could clearly be seen.

The new law will effectively:

Stop police officers from using chokeholds unless the person has threatened or used deadly force or can’t be captured in any other way. Stops departments from hiring officers who were fired or quit while being investigated for serious misconduct, especially excessive force, or have been convicted of a felony. Requires officers to be trained in de-escalation techniques, biases and non-violent methods of law enforcement. Allows the state attorney general prosecute officers if actions result in death

“I think it’s a positive first step,” said Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper. “Most of the things that, in face all of the things that are in that bill, law enforcement agencies across the state already do.”

Tupper hopes the bill will be the first of many racial justice bills which looks at and works to prevent racial bias.

“I hope that the legislature uses this as a stepping stone for larger discussion about disparity,” Tupper said.

For the Tupper the next step includes examining the entire criminal justice system.

“I think we need to look at the court system,” he said. “I think we need to look at how prosecutors and defense attorneys are conducting their business. I think we need to look at how our legislators are conducting their business because bias and disparity can affect the legislative process.”

Tupper fully supports the legislation and encourages people to continue having conversations on race and bias.

“Law enforcement is doing a good job in the state of Iowa,” he said. “I’m a little frustrated that we only seem to focus on law enforcement, when there’s many things we need to be doing to make sure that law enforcement can be more effective in how we do our duties and the entire system is treating people fairly.”

Tupper thinks it was important to do something.

“I think it was a good symbolic first step,” he said. “There are many issues facing our communities and one of the things I hear frequently when we have these discussions about law enforcement is the need for more crisis services, more mental health services, more additional services in our communities. I agree with that 100 percent. We’re asking our law enforcement officers to do too much.”

Tupper’s comments reflect a growing trend around the country. Many services expected of social workers have now become the job of police officers.

“The legislature, in my opinion, needs to look at the services our communities need so our law enforcement is being forced to do things they’re really not equipped for and frankly other professions should be taking on,” Tupper said. “We don’t write the laws, we have to enforce the laws.”

The law was passed after several weeks of protests all around the country.

Throughout Iowa and the United States local and state governments have passed sweeping reforms of law enforcement.

On Monday, the Des Moines City Council passed the first reading of a racial profiling ordinance and Waterloo’s new police chief vowed police accountability.

“We’re having important discussions about bias and how it impacts law enforcement and need to have those discussions, but bias also impacts the legislative process,” Tupper said. “I’m all for more law enforcement training; let’s do it, but let’s also provide similar bias-based training for our judges and our elected representatives.”

The legislative session is drawing to a close and many people are hoping the legislature’s law-presented, debated and passed in one day-isn’t the end of elected officials’ work against racism.

“Let’s not just require these things of law enforcement, let’s require these things of everybody that’s working in the criminal justice system,” Tupper said. “Too often what I have seen we start to have these conversations and do a couple small things but we don’t continue on with the heavy lifting needed for change to happen. Let’s have the hard conversations and do all of the work and not just do a couple symbolic things.”


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