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Cedar Rapids mayoral candidates face questions on systemic racism in policing and increasing equity at forum



The three candidates vying to be mayor of Cedar Rapids participated in a forum on Saturday evening that focused on improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the city.

The forum, organized by the African American Professions of the Iowa Corridor, and was held at Sinclair Auditorium on the Coe College campus. Individuals were able to attend in person or watch the event via livestream on Facebook.

Moderator Ron Corbett, who served as mayor of Cedar Rapids from 2010-18, asked candidates Tiffany O’Donnell, Amara Andrews and Mayor Brad Hart a total of six questions that were submitted by the public prior to the event. The questions covered various topics, including systemic racism in policing, prioritizing equity and increasing involvement of people of color on the city’s boards and commissions.

The question about systemic racism in policing referenced an article the Gazette published last November about E.J. Merriweather, a Black Cedar Rapids Police officer and the president of the union bargaining unit that represents members of the CRPD.

Merriweather said he does not believe systemic racism exists in law enforcement, either locally or nationally. The individual who submitted the question wanted to know whether the candidates agreed with Merriweather and requested that candidates give a yes or no answer followed by an explanation.

Andrews said she “unequivocally” does not agree with Merriweather’s comments.

“I think the problem is that when we hear the word racism, people assume some bad intention. People assume you’re accusing them of being racist,” Andrews said. “That’s not what systemic racism is. Systemic racism is basically systemic power. It’s when a system gives power or privilege to a group over another and then there’s a disparate impact to the other groups.”

As an example of systemic racism within law enforcement, Andrews referenced a report the ACLU published early last year about disparities in arrests for marijuana possession. The report found that a Black person in Iowa is 7.26 times more likely to be arrested. That number is even higher in Linn County, where a Black person is 9.65 times more likely to be arrested for the offense than someone who is white.

Andrews said more people of color need to be recruited to serve as CRPD officers in order to make the department more diverse. Out of 216 sworn personnel in the CRPD, four are Black, according to the department’s annual report from 2020.

“The police department also needs to be more diverse and reflect the community in which it is supposed to protect and serve,” she said.

Andrews, who is the vice president of the board for the nonprofit Advocates for Social Justice, said the seven demands ASJ is advocating for “are an effort to dismantle systemic racism in our police department, specifically.” ASJ played a key role in working with the city to establish an independent citizen review board in Cedar Rapids — only the third of its kind created in the state of Iowa.

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