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A Black man, white cop find common ground while patroling

WAVERLY — As activists took to the streets nationwide demanding an end to police killings of Black people in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Marquis Stephens reached out to one of the only police officers he knew.

“Haven’t talked to you in a while. How are you doing in these crazy times?” the Waverly man, who is Black, messaged Cory Stephens, a white Waverly patrol officer. “Hope everything is good.”

Cory Stephens — no relation to Marquis Stephens — wasn’t sure what to make of the message. He knew Marquis as his loan officer at Veridian Credit Union on a boat loan. Their sons played on an elementary-aged baseball team two summers ago; the men weren’t exactly best friends.

“Definitely crazy times,” Cory messaged back, noting he was praying for healing. “If you need anything, let me know.”

Marquis did want something, it turned out: In the midst of protests that seemed to pit the Black Lives Matter movement against the police and vice-versa, Marquis wanted to find some common ground. Could they have a productive conversation, he wondered?

Hesitant, Cory nonetheless agreed. He set up a police ride-along.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Cory remembered. “I thought, ‘OK. I hope his intentions are pure.’”

And then, Cory had another thought.

“I hope that I can listen well. I hope my intentions are pure.”

‘Lack of trust’

Like many Black people he knows, Marquis Stephens has had his share of “run-ins with the cops.”

The Lisbon native heard “backhanded compliments,” racist language and behavior even before attending Wartburg College in the early 2000s. It no longer surprised him to see an officer take a look at who was driving — a Black man — and flip on their lights.

“There was just that lack of trust there,” Marquis said. “But my friends have been through much worse.”

Hearing friends’ stories — and seeing the killings of Black people at the hands of white police officers — might have hardened Marquis. He still hears stories of Black students leaving Wartburg at the end of a semester, never to return.

But Marquis, now a 15-year Waverly resident, has gotten to know many of the small city’s residents. That includes two Waverly Police Department officers.

He remembered spending time in the bleachers with Cory, watching their 8-year-old sons play baseball, cheering on the “Stephens boys.” Now Marquis worried there was a “big target on cops’ backs.”

Right around the Juneteenth holiday, Marquis sent his message.

“We don’t want things to happen here like in other cities,” Marquis remembered thinking. “The African-American community here doesn’t see eye to eye with the cops. ... I said, ‘This is the first step. I need to feel valued, and I want that trust.’”

Not the plan

Cory Stephens didn’t plan on becoming a police officer.

But once the Evansdale native retired from the military, he wasn’t finding much purpose in his grocery-store. His father-in-law, a retired police officer, asked Cory if he’d ever thought about becoming a cop.

“I said, ‘No.’ He said, “Well, you should,’” Cory remembered. “Best decision I’ve ever made.”

The Waterloo East High School graduate started with the Waverly Police Department in 2008, moving with his wife and family and teaching drug abuse resistance education, or DARE, to sixth-graders.

“I could not ask to work for a better administration in a better town,” Cory said. “It’s given me that chance to — it sounds cliché — but to serve a greater good, to help the community.”

After 12 years on the force, Cory knows there are many different types of officers.

Most of them — he counts himself among them — “operate in the gray area,” trying to help people instead of punishing them. Others, he says, “portray themselves as being very brash and hard-nosed.”

He doesn’t think those officers are racially motivated. “It’s just not the way I would do it.”

A “pretty religious guy,” Cory lately has been listening to sermons from Quovadis Marshall, better known as “Pastor Q,” who leads Waterloo’s Hope City Church, known for its racially diverse congregation.

“One of the things I’ve pulled from his last sermon is, if you’re going to have dialogue, the first thing you have to do is listen,” Cory said.

So when Marquis reached out, Cory decided that’s what he would do.

“Marquis said, ‘I only trust you and like one other cop.’ That wasn’t easy for him to do,” Cory said. He realized, “It’s kind of a big thing for him to jump in a squad car.”

Police officers struggle in reckoning moment

WASHINGTON — As calls for police reform swell across America, officers say they feel caught in the middle: vilified by the left as violent racists, fatally ambushed by extremists on the right seeking to sow discord and scapegoated by lawmakers who share responsibility for the state of the criminal justice system.


On Saturday, Marquis Stephens hopped into Cory Stephens’ squad car for a ride-along. Cory, he said, was true to his intention of listening.

“Me, being Black, I might think of a situation different from him, being white and a cop, too,” Marquis said. “We just talked about that, the experiences, and just fed off of that, asking questions.”

For four hours, Cory drove Marquis around Waverly, deep in conversation and thankful it was a “very quiet Saturday morning.”

Marquis heard about Cory’s journey to becoming an officer. Cory learned about Marquis growing up playing sports with his older brother and excelling in track at Wartburg.

Then, Marquis told Cory about the issues he had experienced with police. Initially, Cory didn’t want to believe that could include officers like the ones he’d worked with and relies on.

“As someone who has always had to treat everybody right — and coming from a diverse background — it didn’t make sense at first,” Cory said. “But then, when I listened to him talk about that distrust, it wasn’t toward me — it was his real-life scenarios.”

Marquis, Cory realized, wasn’t asking Cory to explain the actions of other police officers. Nor was he expecting Cory to atone for the wrongs of those officers.

Marquis just wanted Cory to hear him. Believe him.

“I don’t need to know that I caused it,” Cory said. “I just need to know that it’s a legitimate thing he experienced.”

The two ended the ride-along at the restaurant El Sol, where they both ordered their favorite dish: fajita quesadillas. At Marquis’ request, Cory invited along another officer, Tony Krull, whom Marquis also peppered with questions.

“I wanted, not just one or two cops to trust, I wanted more,” Marquis said. “Shaking his hand and getting his story, how he’s feeling in a time like this, it’s part of it.”

Marquis’ care eased Cory’s mind.

“The genuine care Marquis had — ‘How are you holding up? How are you doing?’ When you start with questions like he did, I can let my guard down,” Cory said.

The aftermath

Marquis shared a photo of the pair next to Cory’s squad car and the story of how the ride-along came together on his Facebook page. It amassed hundreds of shares in less than a day.

“I did not expect to see the impact this has had,” Marquis said.

Cory — one of the department’s field training officers — said he’s already thinking of ways he can use his experience to train new officers.

“To be able to have that brief moment in time, now I can take these new officers coming into the department and shape their minds. I can introduce them to Marquis,” Cory said.

Both hope their story will lead to opportunities for more dialogue, and eventually for change.

“When he’s telling me about his distrust for police, I make that jump almost automatically in my mind — ‘I’m police, you distrust me’ — and I need to get over that,” Cory said. “Just because he doesn’t trust the greater police doesn’t mean he can’t trust me.”

Marquis said he feels the same way. He wants to meet as many officers as he can — and wants them to meet Waverly’s other Black residents, including students.

“People of color at the college age see me, a younger guy who graduated from Wartburg, and maybe they can trust the cops, too,” Marquis said. “We don’t want their very first experience to be them being picked up, and already painting the cops in a bad light.”

Officers can help turn that perception around too, Cory said.

“It might be their worst day, and as police officers, we need to realize that and not to take that personally,” he said. “And dig deep on, ‘How do we really help them?’”

Police officers struggle in reckoning moment

WASHINGTON — As calls for police reform swell across America, officers say they feel caught in the middle: vilified by the left as violent racists, fatally ambushed by extremists on the right seeking to sow discord and scapegoated by lawmakers who share responsibility for the state of the criminal justice system.

The Associated Press spoke with more than two dozen officers around the country, Black, white, Hispanic and Asian, who are frustrated by the pressure they say is on them to solve the much larger problem of racism and bias in the United States. They are struggling to do their jobs, even if most agree change is needed following the death of George Floyd, who was Black, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Most of the officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation or firing.

“You know, being a Black man, being a police officer and which I’m proud of being, both very proud — I understand what the community’s coming from,” said Jeff Maddrey, an NYPD chief in Brooklyn and one of many officers who took a knee as a show of respect for protesters.

All of officers interviewed agreed they’d lost some kind of trust in their communities. For some, the moment is causing a personal reckoning with past arrests. Others distinguish between the Floyd case and their own work, highlighting their lives saved, personal moments when they cried alongside crime victims.

“I have never seen overtly racist actions by my brothers or sisters in my department,” wrote white Covington, Kentucky, police specialist Doug Ullrich in an Op-Ed. “In fact, I believe that my department is on the leading edge of ‘doing it right.’”

Of course, hardly all police support change. Some are incensed — deriding colleagues as traitors for taking a knee or calling out sick to protest the arrests of some police for their actions amid the protests.

For Dean Esserman, senior counselor of the National Police Foundation and past police chief of Providence, Rhode Island, and New Haven and Stamford in Connecticut, the result so far has been for communities and police to pull away from one another. That will mean fewer personal connections — and more problems, he said.

“Many police leaders who are saying ‘don’t call us’ when there are emergencies miss the point,” he said. “I delivered nine babies in my career, and I never shot anybody. The community isn’t part of the job. It IS the job.”

It’s not the first time that police officers have found themselves caught in the middle. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this decade spawned a “blue lives matter” campaign and the belief among many Americans that cops were being unfairly stigmatized over the actions of a few or split-second decisions during tense situations.

But now, Americans are largely united behind the idea that change is necessary: 29% think the criminal justice system needs “a complete overhaul,” 40% say it needs “major changes.” Just 5% believe no changes are needed, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The long, often dark history of American policing has meant minority communities are treated one way, and white ones another. Floyd’s killing cracked open the pain anew, but minorities have long begged for officers to stop seeing them as criminals and to police with equity.

While many activists acknowledge that the problems they’re fighting go beyond police departments, they say that doesn’t mean individual officers aren’t guilty.

“People who try to sell you ‘police reform’ are trying to sell you the idea that you can (asterisk)train(asterisk) the anti-Black racism out of an institution built upon and upheld by anti-Black racism,” activist Adam Smith tweeted.

A culture that allows racism to fester in law enforcement hasn’t yet changed because that would take deep structural shifts, new blood and a lot of time, said Sandra Susan Smith, a criminal justice professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

“It’s not just about the institutional mandate to control and confine, it’s also about the views individual officers bring to neighborhoods,” she said.

The difference now is top police officials nationwide are increasingly supporting reform. Patrick Yeos, president of the national Fraternal Order of Police, said change must come from the top down — and lawmakers must play their role.

“These issues are not created by officers,” he said.

Police don’t always have the autonomy their elected leaders claim they do. When NYPD officers were stopping hundreds of thousands of mostly Black and Hispanic men a year, top brass said officers were exercising their judgment — and the stops were necessary. But officers testified at a federal trial over the stop-and-frisk tactic they felt pressured by superiors to show they were cracking down. And those stops rarely resulted in arrest.

Cerelyn Davis, police chief in Durham, North Carolina, and president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said reform is possible, but there must national accountability standards, and teeth behind them.

“They talk about one bad apple,” she said. “In this field we can’t afford to have one bad apple. One bad apple can have grave consequences.”

Large motorcycle rally in northern Iowa worries local officials

ALGONA (AP) — A group still plans to hold a three-day motorcycle rally in northern Iowa that’s expected to attract thousands of bikers despite the concerns of local officials that the event could spread the coronavirus.

Local officials usually welcome the annual Freedom Rally held on a farm northeast of Algona, but this year’s event planned for Thursday to Saturday has officials worried.

“We have a good relationship with them,” Algona Mayor Rick Murphy told the Des Moines Register. “The bikers are friendly. They’re fun to visit with. ... But this year, everyone is a little more on edge.”

Algona is in Kossuth County, which has had 32 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and no reported deaths. But officials think that could change because of the motorcycle rally, which typically draws 10,000 bikers.

As of Monday, Iowa had reported 28,735 cases of coronavirus and 707 deaths.

The rally is organized by ABATE of Iowa as a fundraiser for the nonprofit group, which supports motorcycle safety and training. The annual rally was long held in Humboldt before moving in 2002 just north to Algona, a city of 5,400 about 50 miles west of Mason City.

David Duffy, the ABATE state coordinator, said the group is encouraging social distancing and is calling for riders to limit trips into Algona.

“We’re taking all the precautions necessary to make this safe,” Duffy said.

The group’s website states participants will have to sign a form that seeks to identify anyone who has been to a coronavirus hot spot and could exclude them from the event.

The website also notes Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations but adds, “social distancing is a suggestion by the CDC, not a law. This rally was created and called the Freedom Rally to promote freedom of choice. Attending is just that, freedom of choice.”

Large gatherings were banned earlier in the year but Gov. Kim Reynolds has allowed them to resume.

Murphy said he and other officials emailed the governor’s office to suggest she reconsider allowing large gatherings but didn’t hear back.

Asked about the message, Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said in a text message, “We are not aware of this request.”

David Penton, the Kossuth County Emergency Management coordinator, said local officials are especially worried that after keeping cases low for months, the rally could lead to the disease spreading at a time when cases are rising in other states, such as Florida.

“People are a little discouraged that that could all be thrown into the wind,” Penton said. “We don’t want to be another Florida.”

WATCH NOW: Nashua-Plainfield teacher wins National History Day award

NASHUA — Suzy Turner, a teacher at Nashua-Plainfield High School, was honored recently by the National History Day Contest.

She won the Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award for the senior division, which includes grades nine through 12, and will receive $10,000. The award is sponsored by Patricia Behring, widow of the late Kenneth E. Behring, who previously sponsored the National History Day Contest for many years.

Each of the 58 National History Day affiliates could nominate one high school teacher for this award, and Turner was the nominee from Iowa. She has been teaching and coaching National History Day students for 16 years.

She not only inspires and teaches students to gain a more thorough understanding of history, but also shares her wealth of experience with colleagues. Turner serves as a mentor for fellow educators to support their implementation of NHD and project-based learning in their classrooms.

“I am not surprised by Mrs. Turner’s selection for this honor,” National History Day Executive Director Cathy Gorn said in a news release. “Mrs. Turner speaks every language of NHD with finesse. It takes an incredibly talented and dedicated educator to teach and mentor both one’s students and one’s colleagues, and she does so with obvious success and admirable humility. If there were an NHD hall of fame, Mrs. Turner would be in it. I congratulate her for winning this award.”

Turner was presented the award during the nonprofit National History Day’s livestreamed awards ceremony June 20. The annual competition and ceremony took place as scheduled this year, but were conducted remotely due to measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.