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Uncertainty, suspicion, distrust and a long wait for change

Life experiences are shared at North Liberty Social Justice and Racial Equity listening posts
North Liberty City Council member Brent Smith holds his copy of “So you want to talk about race,” by ijeoma Oluo during the fifth of six listening posts on racial and social justice held by the City of North Liberty. The North Liberty Community Library has several copies of the book thanks to a donation by a community member.

NORTH LIBERTY– The death, in police custody, of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., earlier this summer sparked protests, riots and a new awareness of racial inequalities.
Following demonstrations in Iowa City, Coralville and Solon, the City of North Liberty embarked on a proactive approach to address issues related to its minority communities.
According to data from 2015, whites make up 88.2 percent (16,134) of the residents of North Liberty with blacks comprising 4.7 percent (867), and Hispanics totaling 4.4 percent (806).
On Tuesday, July 28, the city council received a report from the North Liberty Police Department (NLPD) breaking down the department’s budget, arrest and citation records as they relate to race. The NLPD has 26 fulltime employees with one chief, one investigator, a lieutenant, four sergeants, a K-9 officer, a drug task force officer, and 14 patrol officers as well as two civilian administrative staff members.
In 2019, 65 percent of those arrested where white, 34 percent were black, and 1 percent was classified as “other.” According to the report, 84.4 percent of traffic stops resulted in “warnings and education,” 11.5 percent led to citations being awarded, and only 3.4 percent led to arrests (some due to outstanding warrants). Just over 71 percent of the citations went to whites and 23 percent to blacks. Whites made up 70 percent of drug charges with blacks at 30 percent, and 106 white subjects were searched while 59 blacks and 10 “other” were searched in 2019.
City Administrator Ryan Heiar also advised the council city staff was planning a series of six “listening posts” with the goal of initiating discussions to address barriers and inequities while gaining insights on policies and practices disproportionately affecting minorities and “marginalized people” in North Liberty.
The fifth such gathering was held on Thursday, Aug. 6, outside the historic Ranshaw House. North Liberty Communications Director Nick Bergus further explained the goals, and what had been learned in the previous events, saying “This is an opportunity for the community to come and address city leadership about issues surrounding social justice and racial equity.” City Council members Brent Smith and Chris Hoffman were in attendance along with staff members from other city departments and services, including two police officers.
“This is a national conversation and it’s an important conversation, but it’s really important to hear from our neighbors and our community members and our stakeholders what their experiences are, what their thoughts and ideas are, and we want to do this in a way that’s accessible,” Bergus said.
A mix of online and in-person forums were held with the final “post” taking place on Sunday, Aug. 9, via Zoom.
Bergus said the hope was people would “come and ask questions, share thoughts and feelings, and share experiences so that we have a sense of what the reality on the ground is, and what the problem is that we’re trying to fix and how we can best address those problems.”
A common theme, he said, was the importance of relationships. “People want to be treated with respect, and our community really needs to be a part of that solution. People sometimes feel unwelcome simply because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background. And I’m also hearing people who want to be part of the solution. A lot of folks are coming to these who want to hear, who want to understand, and want to advocate.”
Quincy Jagnow, a senior this fall at Liberty High, participated in several of the listening posts talking about his experience as a young black man in North Liberty.
“I’m trying to give a perspective to white people and people who want to know what they can do. There’s certain things people can’t understand, or begin to consider even a possibility of something happening, or existing, without living in my skin. I feel it’s my responsibility to bring it to people, because I want change. It starts with me, it starts with all of us, so that’s why I’m here.”
Jagnow spoke of encounters with the police, which he described as “ridiculous. I’ve been stopped by the police, and I fit the profile of somebody they’re looking for, and I was like, what? Somebody 12 years old and walking in my neighborhood? I’ve been told I was lying about a testimony I gave about somebody calling the police on me. By the same token though, I have had what I would call positive experiences with the police. I think a big part of my numerous run-ins is not the police targeting me, it’s people in my community perceiving me as a threat. And the police responded. I think it has more to do with changing the minds of my community.”
Liberty High, which opened its doors in 2017, has been “interesting,” Jagnow said. “We’ve had a couple racial things happen. I think that the school tries to do good. I think that the school administrators care, but I don’t think they know what to do. I think it’s going to be something that happens with time as they start to learn and they start to see things more and pay attention, like ‘Oh, I need to be conscious of this,’ or ‘I need to be looking out for this,’ or paying attention to this. This is something people are actually experiencing, and they’re not seeing the full picture yet. With time, I believe it’ll become a better space, but my experience has been… we’ve struggled, but it’s been good.”
Jagnow’s message is to, “Stay involved. You play a bigger role than you might think. Pay attention and look out and try to learn. That’s of the upmost importance, to me. These conversations, they’re a matter of life-or-death for me and my little brother, and my black friends. These conversations could be the conversations that changes the mind of somebody who would’ve called the police on me and gotten my neck knelt on by a policeman. These conversations are important. It can be invisible to white people, it’s easy to think that it doesn’t exist because you don’t see it, you don’t live in it, but that’s why it’s so dangerous. This is happening right here, in our community, and something needs to be done.”
Andrew Brown grew up in the Deep South and spent time in New Jersey before settling in North Liberty with his wife. At the age of 74, he’s experienced extreme examples of racism, and he doesn’t see it ending anytime soon.
“I was telling that police officer, there isn’t a black person in this country or this state here, that hasn’t had a family member who were dealt with in a bad way. And this, they have to live with. When Dr. King was killed, I was coming home from work about 12 o’clock at night. I was stopped by six police cars, and they told me I stole the car. I’ve had a long history of mistreatment all the way down to the integration of buses, and you go from one state to the next, and you think well maybe things have changed. Maybe people will look at me different, or they may think I have something to contribute. But you run into the same thing… south, north, east or west. In areas like this, they’re more not as blatant as they used to be in the South. You knew where you stood.”
Brown spoke of watching a North Liberty police officer ignoring a car driving at night without lights down Highway 965. “What do you think, as a black person? How should I feel if this person get all that privilege? That’s their white privilege.”
He said he doesn’t feel like anything is going to change, unless his story, and stories of young people like Jagnow are told. “Why should this young man have to go through the same things I’ve been through? Is it gonna take another 70 years? How long is it gonna take for him to be treated as a human being, and a young man who has something to contribute to society, and to this community? When is this community making him feel welcome and say ‘I’m gonna listen to you and I’m not gonna treat you different because of your skin color.’ God gave us this color. He didn’t see anything wrong with it. God gave you yours.”
Like Jagnow, Brown has had the police called on him while out walking, with his cane. “I think sometimes this (his cane) looks like a gun, so I can’t walk with a cane! How do I feel safe?”
“I think there is some trust building that needs to happen, and our officers have come and they’re entering into a lot of these things with the best of intentions. (But) sometimes intentions aren’t enough, and we need to recognize there are times when we need to do a better job of connecting with people so that they know that we respect them and that we’re working together,” said Bergus.
“This is not ‘checking a box’ for us,” Bergus said, “we are talking about systemic issues and we’re talking about community issues, and this is ongoing work.”
The city council was to receive a summary of the listening posts, with the goal of starting to prioritize action items toward a work plan during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11 (after this edition’s deadline). “We’ve already implemented some changes,” he said, “The NAACP is now involved in the way police complaints are being handled, but there are other things too, like how do we prioritize? And the Council will give us direction on that. It’s important for us to listen (to the community), and we need to find better ways to build relationships.”
Brown remained skeptical, however, “How long you gonna tell Quincy, and that little boy standing next to him, that his life matters? How long? Is he gonna have to wait until he’s my age? He’s still gonna hear the same things. He still can’t go into the same neighborhoods, he can’t do this or that without somebody looking at him.”
When asked if he thought any change would come out of the listening posts and the discussions, Mr. Brown said, “I hope something’s gonna happen, but, from looking at it from my eyes and ears, what have you seen in the 10 years I’ve been here, that has changed, that makes me wanna think different?”

North Liberty Police Department 2019 Statistics, and reported to the North Liberty City Council on Tuesday, July 28

2015 population: 18,299
white: 16,134 88.2 percent
black: 867 4.7 percent
2 or more 591 3.2 percent
Asian 418 2.3 percent
not specified 235 1.3 percent
Indigenous 45 0.2 percent
Native Hawaiian/pacific islander 9 0.0 percent
Any race, also identifying as Hispanic/Latinx 806 4.4 percent
Foreign-born 847 4.6 percent
Not a US citizen 441 2.4 percent

NLPD staffing as of July 15, 2020
26 fulltime employees:
1 chief
1 investigator
1 Lieutenant
4 Sergeant
1 K-9 officer/K-9
1 drug task force officer
14 patrol officers
2 administrative staff

2019 Citation and Arrest Data
White 65 percent
Black 34 percent
Other 1 percent

Traffic Stops
Warnings & Education 4,861 84.4 percent
Citations 661 11.5 percent
Arrests & Warrants 196 3.4 percent
Incidents & Investigations 22 0.4 percent
Charged & Released 18 0.3 percent
Other Agencies & PD transfer 3 0.2 percent

Traffic Citations by Race
White 657 71.6 percent
Black 214 23.3 percent
Asian 27 3.0 percent
Unknown 17 1.9 percent
Indigenous 2 <1 percent

Drug Charges by Race
White 61 70 percent
Black 28 30 percent

White 106
Black 59
Other 10

Repeat Offenders
Arrests Number of Repeat Offenders
White 87 (avg. 2.1 arrests/individual) 40
Black 44 (avg. 2.6 arrests/individual) 17

Discretionary Arrests
Disorderly Conduct 3 white 3 black
Drug Paraphernalia 48 white 10 black
Interference 10 white 11 black
Intoxication 31 white 7 black
Trespass 3 white 2 black