Racial justice protesters banned from Iowa Capitol in “stunning misuse of power”

I don’t have first hand knowledge about these stories, but as someone who has participated in peaceful protests, I am shocked by the actions of the police.

The reason this came to my attention is I have heard some who would have participated in this Monday’s Indigenous People’s Day event at the Iowa Capitol will not be able to attend because of the arrests described here in articles from the Des Moines Register. I appreciate the Register’s reporting of these events. Register reporter, Andrea Sahouri, was arrested as she was covering a protest. (her story below).

Police say an altercation between Black Lives Matter demonstrators and officers at the state Capitol on Wednesday ignited when a protester in a crowd that tried to pull two people from police custody allegedly jumped on an officer’s back, put him in a chokehold and managed to disarm him. 

Police say they used pepper spray on the crowd and arrested 17 people, including two juveniles. At least three of the arrests included charges in connection with a June 20 protest outside a Hy-Vee where a police car and other property was damaged.

Wednesday’s Black Lives Matter demonstration was organized to demand that Gov. Kim Reynolds restore felon voting rights by executive order. The Hy-Vee protest came into play when officers arrested three people inside the Capitol in connection with that incident, Des Moines Sgt. Paul Parizek said in a news release early Wednesday evening. 

Protester disarmed officer in fight outside Capitol, police say by Register Staff Reports, Des Moines Register, July 1, 2020.

That article contains a timeline of events, photos and videos.

As a result of the arrests, the protesters received notice they will be arrested if they return to state property.

Iowa has warned multiple civil rights protesters arrested at the Capitol last month that they will face trespassing charges if they return to state property anytime this year, an action the ACLU of Iowa contends would be unconstitutional. 

The warning to protesters from Sgt. Tyson Underwood of the Iowa State Patrol followed a July 1 altercation between Black Lives Matter demonstrators and officers at the Capitol who tried to pull two people from police custody, allegedly jumping on an officer’s back, placing him in a chokehold and disarming him.

Police used pepper spray on the crowd and arrested 17 people, including two juveniles in the July 1 event.

“As a result of your actions and/or behavior towards citizen(s) and/or employee(s) of the State of Iowa on July 1, 2020, any continued and future presence on or about the property after the date of this letter will not be welcome or tolerated,” Underwood wrote in a July 15 letter that cited a state trespassing law.

Iowa protesters told they will be arrested if they return to state property, Andrea May Sahouri, Des Moines Register, August 17, 2020

This sounds like an extreme response, and infringement on First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the protesters.

A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of five racial justice protesters who were arrested and banned from the Iowa State Capitol following a July 1 altercation between Black Lives Matter supporters and law enforcement on Capitol grounds, the ACLU of Iowa announced Monday.

ACLU officials say the Capitol ban is unconstitutional, as it blocks individuals from their their rights to free speech, assembly, movement and to petition their government, the civil rights organization wrote in a news release.

The five protesters named in the lawsuit — Jalesha Johnson, Louise Bequeaith, Haley Jo Dikkers, Brad Penna and Brandi Ramus — were among 17 people arrested, including two juveniles, July 1.

The lawsuit is filed against Stephan K. Bayens, the Commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety; Lt. Steve Lawrence, Iowa State Patrol District 16 Commander; Sgt. Tyson Underwood, ISP Assistant District 16 Commander; ISP Trooper Durk Pearston, and another unnamed ISP trooper.

The lawsuit claims the civil rights of the five protesters named in the suit, which are protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and 14th amendments, have been violated.

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen says the Capitol ban is a “stunning misuse of power” and retaliation from the ISP, and an attempt to silence free speech and protest that is critical of law enforcement and the government. 

“You can’t block people’s right to protest simply because you don’t like them or think they’ve behaved in a way you disagree with, or even if they’ve been arrested during a prior protest,” Bettis Austen said in Monday’s news release. “We are also challenging the bans as a violation of our clients’ fundamental freedom of movement, and due process.”

ACLU of Iowa: Group of racial justice protesters banned from Capitol file lawsuit by Andrea May Sahouri, Des Moines Register, October 5, 2020

As I searched for more information about these actions against protesters, I was shocked by another story in the Des Moines Register about the arrest of their reporter on a separate occasion, who wrote the articles above. The following article contains a video Sahouri recorded at the time of her arrest.

More than 250 students and staff from the Columbia University School of Journalism — the alma mater of a Des Moines Register journalist arrested in May while covering a Black Lives Matter protest — have signed a letter asking Polk County Attorney John Sarcone to drop what they call “unjustified” charges.

Andrea Sahouri has pleaded not guilty to the charges of interference with official acts and failure to disperse. She was on assignment at the scene of a May 31 Merle Hay Mall demonstration that had turned violent when she and her former boyfriend — who she said accompanied her for safety reasons — were arrested.

Sahouri, who earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia in 2019, says she told officers multiple times that she was a journalist, but that they nevertheless used pepper spray on her, handcuffed her and took her to jail.

Des Moines police contend that Sahouri, who previously had reported from the scene on their handling of other demonstrations, did not clearly identify herself as a journalist, unlike other reporters covering the Merle Hay protest. Another Register journalist who was with Sahouri at the time of her arrest was not detained.

Drop charges against Des Moines Register reporter, Columbia University demands by Jason Clayworth, Des Moines Register, October 5, 2020

This entry was posted in Black Lives, civil disobedience, Des Moines Black Lives Matter, Indigenous, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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