CEDAR FALLS — The city’s human rights commission wants to respond to reports of incidents at the city’s aquatic center, but wants more information about what happened before moving forward.
The Cedar Falls Human Rights Commission discussed an incident highlighted in a viral social media post by a Cedar Falls woman who posted photos of people she said were fighting in the parking lot of The Falls Aquatic Center last week.
The woman’s post, later switched from public to private, showed photos of mostly Black people gathered in the parking lot and another of police squad cars.
Mayor Rob Green posted on social media later the next day, noting he would increase police presence at the pool to stave off such incidents.
“I was personally disturbed by a couple of things, both the report in the paper and the seeming response of, ‘Let’s just get more police,’ as the automatic response to whatever it was that happened,” said member Melissa Heston.
Some members, like Heston, Spencer Luvert and Eashaan Vajpeyi, noted it wasn’t clear what happened at The Falls. Vajpeyi suggested holding a public forum and inviting the community, including the Black Lives Matter group, to find out.
“That will help us gather perspectives, gather facts, as opposed to us saying, ‘What should we do about this?’ And, by the way, we don’t know much about it,” Vajpeyi said.
Member Mario Basurto countered the commission should have responded much faster, ideally “that day,” to the incident and the city’s response.
“When you hear that someone says you’re going to involve more cops because Black kids are at a swimming pool, that’s wrong,” Basurto said.
That touched off a discussion about whether that was, in fact, what happened, and others suggesting the mayor should, in the future, speak with the commission’s chair and vice chair before a statement is made on what might be racial incidents.
“It sure sounds to me like the mayor may have spoken without all the information available to him,” said member Dave Kivett.
“I agree it was too knee-jerk — it definitely came off as, ‘Oh, people of color having a fight — let’s throw off the alarm bells,’” Vajpeyi said. “I don’t think the reaction on our part is to be equally knee-jerk.”
Members assigned the matter to its outreach committee and decided they would bring it up during a joint meeting with the city council next week.
The commission also named new leaders after the resignation of chair Willie Barney, who took a job in the Iowa City area, members said.
Vice chair Susan Langan asked for a member to nominate her for chair of the commission. Her request was approved unanimously. Langan, a longtime member of the commission, is a guidance counselor at Cedar Falls High School.
Vajpeyi, who joined the commission in April, was named vice chair.
Vajpeyi is a managing partner attorney at Ball, Kirk and Holm in Waterloo, and has represented a group of landlords called Concerned Citizens for College Hill at city council meetings to advocate against reducing residential parking requirements.
“We’re sad to see him go, because he was doing a really nice job of being chair, and on the (racial equity) task force,” Langan said of Barney. “We do wish him luck.”
Barney, members said, had been on the commission at least a decade, and was named its chair in February after the previous chairperson stepped down.
The commission now has one vacancy, and Langan said she heard the mayor only had one white applicant for the position. Barney is Black, and his resignation leaves Luvert as the sole Black member of the commission.
“I think we need to have a person of color, and I know that (applicant) is white,” Langan said. “I think we need to look at that.”