The Iowan Daily | Iowa City community leaders reflect on how their activism evolved over a year after the Black Lives Matter protests


Raneem Hamad did not think she would come out of the summer 2020 protests alive.

“We really thought our lives were in danger,” she said.

The last time the Iowa Freedom Riders held a protest was in September 2020.

Hamad, one of the founders of the Iowa Freedom Riders, attributed the protests’ break to security, after Governor Kim Reynolds passed the Back the Blue Act on June 17 – laws providing additional protection for police and more limitations for demonstrators.

Hamad said that as a black woman in a leadership role, she felt like she had a target on her back. She said she would return from the protests to find police stationed outside her home.

“I was coming back from the protests and there was just a police car waiting outside my house,” she recalls. “He walks away once I start looking at him and taking pictures of the license plate. The cops followed my car wherever I drove downtown.

The fear Hamad felt began long before the first vigil to honor Floyd’s death in May 2020. To this day, she said she still couldn’t fully watch the horrific video.

She said she and Mohamed were with friends when news of Floyd’s death broke.

Hamad remembered feeling anger but also numbness, and she wondered why such things kept happening without consequences.

“I feel like all the other emotions that I had ever felt before, I have experienced before,” she said. “Anger was all I had.”

All the anger felt by Hamad and others was channeled into the protests and rallies. However, she said, the creation of the Iowa Freedom Riders was organic.

“It’s beautiful and remarkable and it says something that a lot of the leaders of this movement were mostly black women, young black women,” she said. “That says a lot in itself. Black women, we bear the brunt of much of the work, of transformational change in our communities. “

Thinking back to last year, she said the biggest shock to her was the disconnect between young blacks and older black leaders in Iowa City.

She said it was difficult to hear condescending comments, whether from city council leaders or older black activists, about the Iowa Freedom Riders’ lack of knowledge when the group’s leaders suggested changes. local government or police policies.


Among the many demands that the Iowa Freedom Riders defended in their list of demands to city council, abolition – the funding and dismantling of the police system – and the diversion of resources from the police to local community organizations were two main goals. .

“I was constantly facing this, like, ‘Your ideas aren’t good because you don’t know anything. You don’t know how the government works or how the city works, ”Hamad said. “We’ve lived in Iowa City all of our lives, we’ve grown up in this system, we know how it goes inside day in and day out.”

One of the biggest challenges she faced, she said, was feeling like there was a lack of support from black leaders.

“The sad thing is that I started my journey of activism with Royceann Porter,” Hamad said. Porter is Johnson County Supervisor and Founder of the Black Voices Project. “She kind of helped me get into this stuff, and just realizing that, you know, there’s a saying we have, that ‘not all skin people are related.’ So not all black people will really, really be for black causes all the time. ”

The Iowan Daily contacted Porter for comment, but she declined.

Hamad was an early supporter of the city’s Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a commission created to address racial disparities within the city, which emerged from a 17-point resolution on racial justice adopted by the city. city.

Adopted in June 2020 after weeks of protest, the resolution was presented as a landmark for the city, underscoring its commitment to tackle police disparities and racial inequalities in the city.

Eventually, she became a commissioner herself, but Hamad said she was happy to have resigned after issues arose between the commission and the council and among the commissioners themselves.

“I have gone to great lengths to get so many community actors to work together to make this something transformational in our community,” she said. “It’s a little sad that the leaders of our community don’t trust the people of Iowa City that what they want is good for them.”

At the end of it all, Hamad said what she understood is that the change is gradual. She said Mohamed’s idea of ​​building power among the people is something she chooses to focus on moving forward.

The existence of the People’s Truth and Judgment Commission, a community committee established by the Iowa Freedom Riders in April to fight racial injustice in response to perceived failures of the city’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says long to Hamad on how the community can come together for support.

“All we would do is get together in a park and talk about our problems at that time and brainstorm ideas on how to solve them,” she said. “And somehow it was doing more and effecting more change in our community.”

The group suspended the committee in July, saying in a statement that the meetings had strayed from their original purpose and “became a place where whites can come and discuss their problems.”

The summer of 2020 had a huge emotional impact on Hamad, she said.

“Looking back, would I… put myself in this situation again?” She said crying. “The answer is yes, I would do everything again. I really love my community… I love to fight for my community and every black person in Iowa City deserves a better life than the one we have now.

While Hamad is wary of the city’s institutions to adopt bold changes, she has not abandoned the people.

“I think our people’s power can do so much, and it has done so much,” she said. “We changed the conversation, we changed the dialogue, and that in itself is powerful.”

She added that she discovered how to know when to step back and focus on what’s best for her.

“Sometimes learning to quit smoking and devoting my energy to other things, and making sure that as a black woman in this world, I’m fine and successful, whether it’s emotionally, physically or mentally.” , Hamad mentioned. “That in itself is the good fight. “

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