DES MOINES — Iowa has a poor track record of combating racial profiling by law enforcement and other entities that hurts its image nationally and creates a threatening atmosphere that needs to be addressed with data collection, training and penalties for violators, lawmakers were told Wednesday.
“There is no room for racial profiling in the state of Iowa,” Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP organization, said in applauding a Senate Judiciary subcommittee’s 3-0 passage of a bill prohibiting the practice and establishing other safeguards. “Every day racial profiling happens in Iowa, whether it’s driving while black, whether it’s shopping while black. This is a real issue.”
The legislation, Senate Study Bill 1177, which is headed for the full committee, seeks to require profiling-prevention training for law enforcement officers and to establish standardized data collection on officer stops and compliance. It also would require a community policing advisory board develop a uniform reporting form by April 2019 and begin evaluating the compiled data on stops and complaints, with annual reporting by 2020.
Most people who attended Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting spoke in favor of the bill and shared stories of encountering discriminatory treatment by law enforcement officers during traffic stops or other encounters that legislators found troubling.
Chris Robinson told the panel he filed a racial profiling complaint with the Iowa State Patrol after he was stopped near Grimes because his truck was making excessive noise. However, he said the agency sent him a “b.s.” letter indicating its investigation found the officer had followed department policy.
“This is why we still have racism and discrimination going on. This is reality for me as a black man. When I leave my house, I don’t know if I’ll make it back,” Robinson told the subcommittee. “We have a lot of redneck mentality out there like Mr. Trump.”
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the meeting “I had my eyes opened” when he took some of his employees who are Hispanic to an Ankeny bar as part of a holiday party last December.
“We walked into this bar, and some guy came out of nowhere from around the pool table with a pool cue yelling at us, telling us we need to go back south and he can’t wait until the wall gets built,” Zaun said. “It’s not just African Americans. There are a lot of people, and it’s disgusting. Thankfully, the owner of that establishment threw that person out, but this happens on a daily basis.”
David Waller, a retired Drake University professor and NAACP member, said incidents like one last week where Old Navy fired three employees after an alleged incident that led a customer to claim on social media that he was racially profiled at its West Des Moines store hurts the state of Iowa’s image, given that such claims are transported “around the world” via the internet,
Russell Lovell, a professor emeritus at Drake University and an NAACP member, said racial profiling poses a “liberty constraint,” particularly for African Americans, that is a “symbolic choke hold” on their civil rights.
NAACP member Linda Carter-Lewis said the measure that has awaited legislative action for several years needs to get passed this year because “it’s not getting better. It’s getting worse.”
Des Moines police Officer Matthew Harkin of the Iowa State Police Association welcomed the legislation but expressed concern that some provisions might not “be operational for officers on the street” who will be required to collect reporting data while trying to conduct their law enforcement duties.
Zaun said he expects the full Judiciary Committee to take up the bill next week, with changes likely after speakers voiced concerns about some provisions.
But Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, told the group, “I’ve been here for six years now. I’ve yet to see a perfect bill. If we wait until this is perfect, it will never happen. We need to get it moving.”