WATERLOO — A thousand people marched through downtown Waterloo on Friday protesting the death of yet another black American at the hands of a police officer.
They carried signs demanding justice for George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day as a Minneapolis police officer held him down with a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest.
Demonstrators chanted “black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe,” and “no justice, no peace” as they marched from Veterans Memorial Hall, across the Sixth Street bridge, past the Black Hawk County Jail, courthouse and City Hall before gathering in Lincoln Park.
And they listened quietly and even applauded as incoming Waterloo Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald vowed he would demand accountability from his officers.
“It is beautiful thing that you have right here,” Fitzgerald told the diverse crowd. “You have a cross-cultural group of people from every walk of life walking in solidarity about what they will not tolerate as members of this community.
“We have to live up to that responsibility,” he added. “And I pledge to you that we will be as accountable as we can to this community.”
Fitzgerald, who takes the reins Monday as the city’s first African-American chief, apologized for the wrongs police officers have committed across the country in the past.
“Part of my role is making sure that members of the community know that the police department stands with them when something wrong happens,” he said. “It takes the police chief, it takes the mayor, it takes others to start building these bridges. The only way you do it is with honesty and integrity, giving citizens voice, and respecting them.”
Joyce Levingston and ReQuia Campbell, who organized the protest, said the event wasn’t just a way to voice outrage over what happened in Minneapolis.
“We want to paint a new master narrative of our community, of us actually joining together with the police and with them being part of the solution,” Levingston said. “We are all mourning together, and the officers are out here carrying the weight too.”
Floyd, 46, was killed Monday while being arrested for alleged fraud over a counterfeit $20 bill. Widely seen videos taken by bystanders show officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into the neck of Floyd, who is restrained on the ground and saying he couldn’t breath.
The death led to nights of looting and fires in Minneapolis and around the country, and Chauvin was taken into custody Friday on a charge of third-degree murder.
Seeing another African-American death at the hands of police, especially one caught on camera, has scarred many of those attending the march in Waterloo.
“This is really hard for me,” said Rev. Belinda Creighton-Smith. “When George Floyd cried out to his mama he was crying out to me. I could feel his pain and I could feel his breath being cut off, and my breath too was cut off.”
State Rep. Ras Smith said he saw his face on Floyd’s face.
“I felt 400 years of oppression on my chest,” Smith said. “In that moment I knew today is our chance. This is our moment to come together and change it.”
Waterloo Human Rights Director the Rev. Abraham Funchess said it was important for the Cedar Valley and persons everywhere to hold police accountable when necessary.
“We’ve got to be able to call police brutality what it is, with the understanding that there are some of them that do a good job,” Funchess said. “But there are others that are not doing such a good job.
“Too many of our dreams have been snuffed out with the breath of George Floyd. Too many of our dreams have been snuffed out with the breath of Ahmaud Arbery. Too many of our dreams have been snuffed out with the killing of Breonna Taylor.
“We need new vision,” he said. “We need new direction.”
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