A moment of prayer and solidarity in downtown Des Moines on Sunday night diffused a tense situation.
A few hundred protesters gathered outside the Des Moines Police station, kneeling in silence to honor George Floyd, the black man who died a week ago in Minneapolis police custody. Then they began chanting at police on the other side of barricades to do the same.
WHO Television’s livestream on Facebook showed a black officer and a white officer behind the barricades kneeling in prayer, drawing a positive roar from the crowd. People in the crowd yelled that they’d leave if every officer on the scene knelt. For two minutes, police in riot gear joined the protesters, symbolically taking a knee, to cheers.
The crowd then left.
A group of protesters in Fort Dodge organized around nine o’clock Sunday night for a rally against police brutality and social injustice. As the group of protesters marched on the downtown area in Fort Dodge, the group grew in number by three-to-four times as many people. Eli Smith, one of the leaders of the protest, said the group had no intentions of violence.
“We just want to be heard, we don’t want to loot or do all that extra. We just want to be heard,” Smith said. “I’m a Black Man in America so me, walking outside, I have a target on my back. Everyday living in America, I can feel it.”
The protest march lasted a little over two hours and remained peaceful before dissipating shortly after 11 p.m.
Similar events were staged over the weekend in places like Sioux City, Iowa City and Waterloo, too. Michael O’Connor, a Native American activist who joined a march in Sioux City, said this could be a historic turning point.
“We need to organize and not just organize against, but organize with those community organization organizations and community responders,” O’Connor said. “A lot of questions really need to be asked and a lot of questions need to be answered.”
Jada Allen of West Des Moines joined a Saturday afternoon march. Allen said she’s tired of being viewed as a threat because she’s black.
“I can’t go outside and live my life, that I have to be alert all the time,” she said. “And if I get pulled over I have to make sure that I’m saying: ‘Yes, ma’am’ and ‘Yes, sir’ and that I know that my life can be taken.”
Waterloo police joined a march that ended at the Black Hawk County courthouse Friday night. Joel Fitzgerald, Sr., Waterloo’s new police chief, spoke with KCRG TV.
“Sometimes we have to do a temperature check in our agencies,” he told KCRG, “and make sure that we’re consistent with what the community would like to see out of their police department.”
A rally for change is scheduled for Monday night on the Iowa Capitol grounds.
(Rob Jones of KVFD in Fort Dodge contributed to this story)