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Written by Adam B Sullivan Iowa City Press-Citizen Local minorities are missing out on some of the opportunities white residents enjoy, according to one group of Iowa City racial equity proponents. The Coalition for Racial Justice on Tuesday released a report about racial equity in Johnson County. The 18-page document highlights statistics that show academic, legal and economic disparities between whites and minorities in the area, leading some local advocates to suggest Iowa City is becoming a “tale of two cities.” “While the Johnson County area can boast of being a vibrant community that offers a high quality of life, the data show people of color have a very different experience than white members of our community,” said coalition member LaTasha Massy, who works for Johnson County Social Services. • At school, black and Latino students aren’t hitting the same academic achievements as white or Asian classmates, and minorities are more likely to be suspended or put in special education programs. • In the justice system, young black people were six times more likely than young white people to be arrested in 2011 — the highest disparity in the state. The report released Tuesday attributes that in part to the youth curfew Iowa City implemented in 2009. • For adults, 42 percent of the Johnson County jail’s average daily population was black in 2010, while only about 5 percent of the county jail population is black. • And at work, the Coalition for Racial Justice’s report shows higher unemployment rates for minorities than for white residents. Forty percent of black residents and 26 percent of Asian residents reported incomes lower than the poverty level in 2010, compared with 16 percent of white residents. None of the data presented is new — all was collected from public records. However, the co-authors say gathering racial disparity indicators in one place sometimes provides stronger evidence than word-of-mouth stories of discrimination. “So many times we get caught in a situation where we talk about things we’ve gone through or we might vent to a friend and that’s it,” said Kingsley Bothway, who is running for Iowa City Council this fall. “You have that anecdotal stuff people talk about amongst themselves, but having this information, you can use this as a way to come together toward decreasing that racial disparity.” Local policymakers have taken note of some racial disparity issues in recent months. The Iowa City Community School District approved a diversity policy aimed at curbing socioeconomic disparities between schools; the Iowa City Council adopted a list of recommendations from the Ad Hoc Diversity Committee it created; and racial disparities were a major part of the discussion last year and earlier this year during two failed bond referendums that would have funded a new justice center and larger jail in Johnson County. However, local policy is shaped overwhelmingly by white stakeholders. No people of color sit on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, or the Iowa City or Coralville city councils. One person of color serves on the Iowa City School Board. Coalition members are urging local officials to address racial disparity issues with results in mind. Specifically, Tuesday’s report recommends the creation of a Racial Justice Roundtable and development of better assessment tools to track race issues. “The result of those policies, because they were not developed with communities of color, may have racially disparate outcomes,” Coalition for Racial Justice member Diane Finnerty said.
"I recently called over to the jail
and asked them how many people
have been in jail for marijuana
during the past two years.
Their answer: zero."
- Janet Lyness, speaking at the
county Democratic convention
Iowa Ranks Worst in Nation In Racial Disparities of Marijuana Arrests A Black Person in Iowa Is More Than 8 Times as Likely to be Arrested for Possession Than a White Person, Despite Equal Usage Rates, an ACLU National Study Finds June 4, 2013 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: 212-549-2666, firstname.lastname@example.org DES MOINES, Iowa - Iowa has the largest racial disparity in the country of arrests in marijuana possession, with blacks being more than eight times as likely to be arrested than whites, even though whites use marijuana at about the same rate, a national American Civil Liberties Union study has found. The report is based on data collected from the FBI and U.S. Census Bureau. It found that on average nationally in 2010, a black person was 3.7 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana as a white person. And in some individual counties nationally, blacks were more than 10, 15, and even 20 times as likely to be arrested. Iowa has the highest racial disparity rate in the country with a black person being 8.34 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as a white person. Iowa is followed by Washington D.C., Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. In Iowa, blacks make up just 3.1 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But in 2010, they were arrested at a rate 8.34 times higher than whites for marijuana possession. That translates into 1,454 blacks arrested per 100,000 of the black general population compared to just 174 whites arrested per 100,000 of the white general population. "These are devastating numbers," said Legal Director for the ACLU of Iowa. Iowa criminal justice advocates have long pointed out racial disparities in arrest and incarceration rates of blacks and the report is further evidence that the state needs to make equity in criminal justice a priority, he said. "Iowa has been a leading state among civil rights and should not rank as the worst in racial disparities in marijuana arrests," said Wilson. "We all need to take responsibility—whether as citizens, police on the streets, or administrators. We can all do something to change this culture if we truly care about justice and equal opportunity." The report also includes recommendations on ending "the war on marijuana." Marijuana arrests now account for half of all drug arrests in the U.S. The report recommends legalization of marijuana as the smartest and surest way to end racially biased enforcement of marijuana laws. Iowa has fared badly in other studies of racial disparity in its criminal justice system. In 2007, a study by the Washington D.C.-based Sentencing Project ranked Iowa worst in the nation in the ratio of blacks to whites in prison. The study found Iowa incarcerates blacks at a rate 13.6 times that of whites—more than double the national average. Across the country, blacks are imprisoned at nearly 6 times the rate for whites. Latinos are imprisoned at nearly double the rate for whites nationally. Latino arrest rates were not included in the ACLU study because the FBI data did not include that racial breakdown. A 1999 Des Moines Register investigation found the proportion of Iowa’s blacks in prison, on parole, or probation had reached 1 in 12—a ratio that far surpassed those of most other states. The ACLU study is especially significant because it examines an area of the law which is violated by whites and blacks at roughly equal rates—dispelling the argument that blacks commit more of a particular crime and therefore are arrested at higher rates. The report cites the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse and Health that found in 2010 nationally 14 percent of blacks and 11.6 percent of whites reported using marijuana in the past year. The report also breaks down arrest data by county: In Iowa, Dubuque County had the worst racial disparity with 1,816 arrests per 100,000 for blacks vs. 181 for whites; followed by Woodbury County at 2,036 vs. 251; Johnson County at 1,918 vs. 247; Linn County at 2,090 vs. 284, and Clinton County at 1,148 vs. 157 However, according to the report, the racial disparities cut across many states, regions, and demographics, stating, "The racial disparities are as staggering in the Midwest as in the Northeast, in large counties as in small, on city streets as on country roads, in counties with high median family incomes as in counties with low median family incomes, and exist regardless of whether blacks make up 50 percent or 5 percent of the county's overall population. The racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates are ubiquitous; the difference can be found only in their degrees of severity." The study further found that while there were pronounced racial disparities in marijuana arrests 10 years ago, those disparities have grown significantly worse. "The war on marijuana has largely been a war on people of color," said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU's national Criminal Law Reform Project and one of the report's primary authors. "State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against black people and communities, needless ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost." The national report, in fact, highlights the case of a Waterloo man, DeMarcus Sanders. Sanders was stopped by police for merely playing music in his car loudly. The officer searched his car and found a single marijuana seed. Sanders plead guilty and did 30 days in jail, losing his job. He also automatically lost his driver's license. Sanders still owes the state more than $23,000 for jail room and board, court costs, and other fines--which is tough to repay after getting fired and having no driver's license. Sanders was stopped and arrested a second time for doing nothing more than jaywalking. The officer wanted to search him, said Sanders. "I told him, 'No, you cannot,' " Sanders remembers. " 'I haven't done anything. I'm not drunk. I'm not high. I'm not bothering anyone.' " He was arrested anyway, and police later found a small bag of pot on Sanders. "I understand cops have to do their jobs. I'm not bashing cops," he said. "[But] you're on me; that's profiling. You're racially profiling me." More on Sanders story can be found in the national report along with stories of other Black people who were racially profiled and later arrested for marijuana possession.
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Johnson Co. Attorney Candidate Wants No More Public Intox By Staff Writer 08/01/2014 IOWA CITY, Iowa - A Johnson County candidate for county attorney says if elected he would not prosecute public intoxication or marijuana possession cases. John Zimmerman, 45, announced his candidacy for the office at a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the Iowa City public library. “If I’m elected, we will stop prosecuting people for marijuana for personal use. Let me repeat that If I’m elected, we will stop prosecuting people for marijuana for personal use. It’s victimless,” Zimmerman read from a prepared statement. “If I win, we’ll also stop prosecuting people for victimless public intoxication.” Zimmerman made the announcement while surrounded by several members of the anti-justice center movement. Two former city council candidates also stood by his side, Royceann Porter and Rockne Cole. Zimmerman said his policies will address racial justice issues in the community. He said policies by the current county attorney, Janet Lyness, fall short of addressing the issue. Lyness will face off with Zimmerman in a June primary before the November general election.
A violation of the ordinance would be a simple misdemeanor punishable by a $65 fine. PED MALL POLITICS: IS ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE ENOUGH TO WARRANT AN ORDINANCE? SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 AMY MATTSON Something on the Ped Mall stinks. And no, it’s not hapless Iowa City residents sweating away in the oppressive heat. It’s the proposed ordinance championed by select downtown business owners, and at last tally, six of the city’s seven council members. The ordinance, introduced in August, aims to restrict certain behaviors on the pedestrian mall. Its directives include limiting the times persons may lay down on benches, banning a horizontal pose of the same manner on planters and curtailing the amount of time individuals can can store personal items in public space. Though the law would apply to all, it’s widely known that the ordinance is intended to target those who linger near the north edge of the Ped Mall. Many transients have moved their gatherings closer to the corner of Dubuque and Washington Streets since construction began on Park@201. — photo by John Miller It’s an issue that’s been brewing for years, and one that came to a head this summer as construction on the new Moen Group development, Park@201, reached its peak. The construction site has (by all accounts temporarily) blocked access to a group of benches in the Black Hawk Mini Park, where transients traditionally gathered. Since construction began, the aforementioned persons have moved their gathering closer to the corner of Dubuque and Washington Streets, one of the most heavily trafficked downtown intersactions. The move of this largely homeless group has made them more easily visible to the general populace, and it seems that their presence makes some uncomfortable. “A lot of people really find some of the actual homeless people they see in the Ped Mall intimidating, threatening, scary,” Iowa City Police Officer David Schwindt said. But, he noted, “[The homeless] really just want to be treated like average people. It’s just that aesthetic thing, that a lot of people would look at them and just think they’re dangerous based on their appearance.” These words from Officer Schwindt came just days before the council first introduced the latest Ped Mall ordinance. Officer Schwindt talked about how he sees himself as more of an educator than an enforcer. He spoke about how he explains to the public—or more specifically, to those who come to him saying that panhandling ought to be outlawed entirely—that people have a right to free speech. He reiterated that lying on benches is legal in Iowa City, whether people like it or not, and it is not the responsibility of the police to tell them to move along. Nevertheless, the council’s new ordinance would require Officer Schwindt to alter much of this rhetoric. Many of Iowa City’s more influential citizens are eager for this new ordinance. Business owners, city council members and Iowa City Downtown District representatives have spoken out against what they view as lewd, rude and sometimes destructive conduct by transient individuals. In an Aug. 21 report from The Press Citizen city council member Connie Champion, whose daughter, Catherine Champion, owns a business on the Ped Mall, suggested threats to safety from the individuals that gather there. “We do not allow our young girls to leave the store alone,” she said. “That’s how bad it is. They’re really nasty, very sexually suggestive. These are young college girls from small towns and they’re terrified.” While these type of anecdotes should be taken seriously, it seems that for many proponents of the ordinance, the biggest problem with the bench-dwelling population is that they are aesthetically displeasing. “A certain group of people have overtaken the set of benches at the Dubuque Street entrance to the ped-mall,” Iowa City Downtown District President Bill Nusser said. “I think that’s threatening to people. It’s unsightly.” But not all downtown workers feel the same. Jake Hansen, who manages a downtown establishment, the name of which he requested not be published, notes that a few of his customers have complained about those who loiter on the sidewalks, but says that for the most part, he and other nearby workers have had few problems with the more permanent Ped Mall population. “It’s mostly an issue of non-paying patrons coming in to use the restrooms,” he explains. Patrick Grim, who works just around the corner from Hansen, takes a similarly relaxed stance. Though he’s often on the job until the wee morning hours, he notes he has no qualms about his safety or that of those he serves. “It’s consistently the same crowd,” he says of those who hang around the ped mall. “They keep to themselves.” Ped Mall frequenter Tyrell Spitt has been no stranger to Iowa City streets for the past seven years. From what he’s observed, deviant behavior among the Ped Mall homeless has been limited to loitering, littering and an occasional argument between friends. In fact, he notes that most of those who call the area between Washington and Burlington streets home are simply looking to socialize, and that they have an amicable relationship with patrolling police officers and pedestrians. So what prompts a bevy of concerned citizens to draft and back restrictive directives that limit the freedoms of ordinary, albeit somewhat itinerant, individuals? University of Iowa law professor Paul Gowder has a few ideas, and they don’t involve out of control crime. It’s a problem of perception that he’s seen before, one he says amounts to a “denial of the fact that the homeless have just as much right as other citizens to occupy a public space.” “There’s no evidence that I’ve seen that demonstrates having homeless people congregate in an area causes crime,” says Gowder. “We’re not talking about skid row in L.A. We’re talking 20 people, tops.” Though the professor of constitutional law admits the proposed Iowa City ordinance seems like overkill, he cautions that council members and political opponents may know something we don’t. “We have to be open minded,” he says. Acknowledging that many of the city council’s efforts to address the roots of homelessness and develop our city’s services are worthy of praise, at best this feels like a hasty response to temporarily close quarters, as caused by the downtown construction site. At worst, it feels like a baseless attempt to legislate the homeless out of downtown Iowa City. Meanwhile, as Spitt notes, once citizens like himself are banned from the Ped Mall, they’ll have few places to dwell. “We’ll move under the bridges,” he says. “And then … who knows?” Connie Champion (Former City Council Member and Voting in Favor of the New Law) - "“I’m not against homelessness, they don’t frighten me, and I’m not against poverty, they don’t frighten me, either,” City Councilor Connie Champion said. “What frightens me is the behavior of some people.”
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Opponent for Johnson County
Perjury, Political Favors, Malicious
Prosecutions, Criminalizing HIV Status,
Protecting Workplace Abusers, Prison
For Profit, Overprosecution, Jailing the
Mentally Ill, Fighting Progressive Change…
Prosecutor's mishap should yield consequences BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 04, 2011 One simple slip-up led to a mistrial, valuable time and resources wasted, which may total more $50,000 in real costs. The taxpayer-paid Johnson County prosecutor's blunder necessitates much scrutiny going forward, but any scrutiny that occurs will not matter — the next election for county attorney will be in 2014. In the interest of running a more efficient and accountable government, elections for county attorney should be held every two years. But as electoral reform may be unlikely to change in the near future, disciplinary actions parallel to that of a private firm need to be implemented. It's been over a week since the Charles W.C. Thompson case was declared a mistrial, and the county has yet to yield any insight to the professional ramifications of County Attorney Janet Lyness' locally infamous slip-up. After mistakenly playing video evidence that both sides agreed to be misleading, Judge Sean McPartland decided to declare a mistrial. In the week following the ruling, it seems the costly mistake to the community will yield no direct ramifications to the person directly responsible. If Lyness had made the same mistake while working for a private firm, her performance would be closely monitored. At the very least, she would lose respect as an attorney and would likely suffer severe fiscal consequences in lost clientele. Several local law firms were inquired to gauge the outcome of Lyness' oversight analogous to a private context, but none wanted to be quoted publicly. This is a homicide trial, and Lyness is a lawyer. She has been to law school. She knows how to build a case, how to present briefs, how to make appeals, how to win, and how to count her losses. She has worked and won many cases. She is, by definition of merit alone, a legal "professional." Lyness is a human being. She makes mistakes. But professionals of her standard should not make these kind of egregious oversights. She must be penalized in some way. What readers need to understand before examining the aftermath of McPartland's declaration is this: In deciding whether or not to permit the application of evidence, the prosecution and the defense must evaluate and ultimately — if it comes down to it — argue. The process of fighting for the exclusion or inclusion of evidence, especially in a homicide trial, often takes weeks, even months. The evidence contained in segment of that tape "accidentally" played during the final moments of the Thompson trial contained information that must have been debated over for an extensive period of time, because it is delicate evidence. The exclusion of that particular segment of video was a significant and highly important victory for the defense. Though not impossible, it is unlikely that Lyness' slip-up during the video presentation was purposeful. But just as it would not slip the mind of a mechanic to replace the wheels of a sedan after brake work, a prosecutor should not forget to press "stop" on a tape player during a high-profile case. Unfortunately, few voters will recall this mishap in 2014. And if 2014 is similar to the any general election for county attorney since 1970, Lyness will run unopposed. There are no elections in private practices. Competition continues to be stiff for private practitioners as more and more law graduates flood the limited job market. A survey of the class of 2009 law graduates indicated that 29.2 percent did not have a job requiring a bar passage by this year, 2011. To assume these graduates would not prefer a job in a law firm would be near senseless. While a high-profile mistake such as this one will have no lasting impact on the county attorney, some law firms would have started to seriously consider reviewing a stacked set of potential replacements. Lyness has cost the county time and money and has sparked vast negative publicity. If lawyers had to wait three-plus years to replace a injurious partner, their profits would likely dwindle and their livelihoods would be at risk. Lyness should be reprimanded to the satisfaction of the taxpaying public, but she won't. She'll continue to practice as if nothing had happened. This is just one example of how government needs to imitate private counterparts for cost-efficiency and quality of employment. By having more frequent elections with effective replacement provisions, the county attorney will be more primed to serve the needs of the community that elects her or him.
As Published in the Press-Citizen Jan. 29, 2014, with added Commentary... An Iowa City school transportation provider has filed a civil law suit against Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness over a traffic incident that occurred more than two years ago involving Lyness’ SUV and a local school transportation vehicle. According to court documents filed last week, Illinois-based Durham School Services and the student transportation company’s insurance provider, Old Republic Insurance Co., are suing Lyness over workers’ compensation payments received by a Durham employee after he was allegedly injured in a vehicle accident caused by Lyness. Court documents state that on Dec. 31, 2012, Durham employee and Iowa City resident Gilberto Flores was driving a Durham-owned vehicle through the intersection of Wade and Williams streets when an SUV driven by Lyness failed to stop at a stop sign and struck the vehicle. Documents did not indicate if the vehicle was a school bus or other type of vehicle, or if any other passengers were on board during the incident. Durham’s attorney, Jeffrey Lanz, said he could not comment on the lawsuit. Old Republic and Durham are seeking damages to cover the workers’ compensation paid to Flores as a result of the “severe personal injuries” he sustained in the accident, according to the documents. Old Republic and Durham are filing the lawsuit after Flores failed to file a similar lawsuit against Lyness by January 2013, the document states. The amount of workers’ compensation benefits paid to Flores since the incident was not included in court documents. Lyness was unable to be reached for comment Wednesday. ...Imagine for a moment that this was a case where a poor, black, 20 year old kid, from Broadway Apartments, that ran a stop sign and created this kind of accident...The most vocal people that were advocating for a new jail would have had their pitchforks and torches out a year ago over this. When an elected official is at fault for an accident that caused this type of serious damage, you have to wonder why we're only hearing about it now...And yes, she is at fault. Lyness plead guilty to running the stop sign shortly after the accident. You get paid to hold people accountable for your actions, Ms. Lyness. It's time to publicly assume responsibility for your own. County Attorneys often make the argument that someone's actions due to running a stop sign can very well kill someone. It's time to practice what you preach...
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True Crime: White Privilege and a Police Killing in an Obama-Mad College Town Mon, 10/19/2009 - 22:49 — Paul Street Iowa City, Iowa went wild for Barack Obama in '08, earning a reputation among it's more conservative neighbors as “The People’s Republic of Johnson County.” But when a white deputy sheriff shot to death a homeless Black man at the urging of a local white drunk, the “liberal” oasis behaved much like any racist backwater town. True Crime: White Privilege and a Police Killing in an Obama-Mad College Town by Paul Street “Obama’s victory could perhaps be stoking the fires of an ugly white backlash.” Imagine, if you will, a small, predominantly white city with growing poverty and crime in a small, highly segregated black section of its South East side. Imagine that a black university professor in the city warns the local newspaper that “a black man will be killed this summer by a local police officer, probably under unclear circumstances.” The professor also predicts that the town’s “citizens will be insufficiently enraged” by the shooting. Later in the same year, on a warm evening near the end of July, an older white university custodian has too much to drink at a tavern near the city’s central business district. As he and his wife leave the bar, the custodian spies a drunken 26-year-old black man fumbling with some bottles in a parking lot across the street. The black man is one of the city’s many homeless people who collect cans and bottles for recycling at five cents per container. The 63-year-old facilities worker crosses the street to verbally harass and physically assault the young black man for spilling some bottles. As a different university professor (this one white) will note later, the white janitor appears to think that he has been specially “deputized to monitor inebriated young black guys and make sure – using physical force if necessary – they clean up their littler.” The custodian insists on forcing a confrontation with the black man despite his wife yelling at him to leave. A bloody commotion ensues. After the white man begins his attack, the black man pulls out a short pocketknife and stabs the white man in self-defense. “The white janitor appears to think that he has been specially “deputized to monitor inebriated young black guys.” A deputy with the local county sheriff’s department happens upon the scene. The deputy is a white male, 45 years old. He specializes in evictions, not violent altercations. Still, he carries a deadly .40 Glock pistol as he rushes from his car. The officer displays his badge, identifies himself as a deputy, and points his gun at the black man. He orders the two men to separate. The janitor violates the order, knocking the black man to the ground with a single shot to the head. Keeping his Glock pointed at the black man, the officer tells the white man to “run away.” The janitor screams at the officer, telling him to shoot the black man. The officer tells the black man to stay down on the ground. When the drunken black man staggers to his feat and allegedly “lurches” toward the officer, the deputy blows him away with a single fatal shot. The black man dies in a matter of minutes. The white janitor is taken to the hospital to be treated for his pocket- knife wound. He is never charged with assault or anything else. His blood alcohol is not tested. His role in provoking the terrible incident goes uninvestigated. “The janitor screams at the officer, telling him to shoot the black man.” The local city police department tells the local newspaper that the shooting was justifiable. The killing resulted, the paper dutifully reports, from a terrible assault on a local “citizen” by a menacing “transient.” The official police statement, repeated by the local press, reads as follows: “The deputy confronted the knife-wielding transient. The transient ignored the deputy’s repeated commands to drop the knife... Instead, the armed transient advanced threateningly toward the already injured city resident and was shot by the deputy.” There is no mention of how the white custodian disobeyed the officer’s orders and continued to assault the black man. But a very dissimilar take on the killing appears within days on the front page of a different newspaper, based in a larger municipality thirty miles north. Here are ten paragraphs from a story based on the testimony of two telecommunications workers (who I shall call Telcom A and Telcom B) who witnessed the shooting from inside a car parked in direct proximity to the incident: “‘There was no knife, there was no lunging,’ Telcom A said. ‘I saw a cop shoot a guy in cold blood.’ Telcom Worker B, 22, and Telcom Worker A, 40, who both work for a [local] telecommunications company, got off work at 7 p.m. Friday and drove with another co-worker to [a local bar] to have a drink. As their vehicle was coming out of the alley next to City Electric, which was blocked by bags of cans and bottles and some broken glass, they saw the episode unfolding to their left and turned off the radio so they could hear what was going on.” ”A skinny black man was lying on the pavement with his head against the tire of a car about 40 feet away. He was missing teeth, his clothes were dirty and he had blood on his torso.” ”The deputy, wearing civilian clothes, had a gun pointed at the man, and a third man -- whose side was covered in blood [that would be the custodian] -- was standing next to the deputy telling him to shoot, Telcom A and B said.” “I saw a cop shoot a guy in cold blood.” ”The homeless man on the ground appeared to be drunk, they said. The deputy told him not to get up, or he would shoot, Telcom A and B said.” ”‘I don't give a f---,’ the homeless man responded. The deputy repeated the threat, and ordered the man to stay down.” ”Again, the homeless man said he didn't care. Then he stood up, spread his arms, and stumbled a few feet to the side before the deputy shot him in the chest from about 15 feet away, Telcom Workers 1 and 2 said.” ”The two men insisted the homeless man had no knife when he was shot.” ”In fact, Telcom B said, the homeless man was wobbling, and, though he disobeyed the deputy, he never made a threatening move.” "It wasn't aggressive," Telcom A said. ‘He was just drunk.’" “… ‘He could hardly stand,’ Telcom B said of the homeless man.” The Telcom workers do not tell their story directly to the police for an obvious reason: fear. People who believe they have just witnessed a police murder are not generally excited at the prospect of reporting it to the police. The Telcom workers are served subpoenas by the local police. They reluctantly testify on what they saw. Other witnesses never testify because of fear. A few days after the shooting, the aforementioned black professor convenes a meeting of concerned local residents at the local city’s public library. About forty people, at least half of them black, show up to discuss recent events and what to do. Black citizens and one white lady (the mother of two bi-racial young men) stand up to tell harrowing tales of local police harassment. “People who believe they have just witnessed a police murder are not generally excited at the prospect of reporting it to the police.” Half way through the meeting, a local white university liberal suggests that everyone walk over to meet with the city police. During a meeting with a police lieutenant, the professor expresses the group’s desire for a full and comprehensive investigation of the shooting. No such investigation occurs, really. Under existing law, the state’s attorney general’s office is required to issue a “finding of facts” related to cases in which citizens are killed by police officers. The homeless black man is buried. The deputy is placed on administrative leave – standard procedure after an officer shoots somebody. The custodian refuses to talk to anyone. Nearly two months go by. Then, quite suddenly, the attorney general’s review (the “AG report”) of the incident is issued, with remarkably short notice to concerned citizens, in late September. To nobody’s surprise, the AG report amounts to a complete exoneration of the deputy. The killing was justified, the report claims. The white deputy gets a pass. So does the white custodian, who created the horrible episode in the first place. The Telecommunications workers’ testimony is completely disregarded. In the press conference where the report is released, officials discuss the possibility of investigating those workers for false testimony. A number of black residents and concerned white citizens express anger and concern at the press release. But the AG report, like the shooting itself, elicits little outrage among the local populace, consistent with the black professor’s prediction. Released on a Friday, it does not even get mentioned in the local paper’s weekend content, which is obsessed with a major university football contest. “The killing was justified, the report claims.” Two weeks after the report, the paper prints a column by a local white criminal justice instructor. The report hails the deputy who killed the young black man as a “hero. He was able,” the instructor claims, “to accomplish in his career what few peace officers will ever do: He saved the life of another human being. For this he is to be highly praised by all of us. Thank you deputy.” After stating that he “could not believe the fast response times of the local city police and the county ambulance service” in the incident, the instructor ends his column by suggesting that “criminal and civil proceedings” should he brought against the telecommunications workers who “gave false information, under court order, to the police.” The instructor criticizes the “set minds” of “the racists who interject race into every event that involves different racial or ethnic groups.” He says in essence that you are over-generalizing racist if you think racism was involved in the killing that took place. Meanwhile, the local city council responds to rising crime and racial tensions in and around the city’s small black ghetto by passing an “anti-loitering” law modeled on similar ordinances in larger cities with bigger black populations. The law forbids people from congregating on streets or sidewalks “in such a way as might hinder traffic.” It is a useful device to permit escalated arrests of young blacks.It will not be used very much to hinder mass gatherings around predominantly white students in and around the local area. Now, as it happens all of this took place. None of it is made up. There’s no imagination required. “The anti-loitering law is a useful device to permit escalated arrests of young blacks.” Where did it all occur? Not, as many Americans would probably guess, in a southern town in the 20th century. It took place rather this year in a “liberal,” “progressive,” and northern university town that is immensely proud of itself for its role in helping make Barack Obama the nation’s first black president. The first local newspaper mentioned – the one that initially reported the police version of the killing practically verbatim – is the Iowa City Press-Citizen, owned by the national Gannet chain. The second paper mentioned – the one that published the counter-narrative from the workers I called “Telcom 1” and “Telcom 2” – is The Gazette, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Gazette story told of a “cold-blooded” police murder of an innocent black man: “Deputy Shot Man ‘In Cold Blood’: Witness,” The Gazette, July 26, 2009, 1A. The local university mentioned is the University of Iowa. The 26-year old black man who was killed was named John Deng, a Sudanese refugee who lived on the streets of Iowa City. The officer who killed Deng is Terry Stotler, a deputy with the Sheriff’s Department that is attached to what local Republicans absurdly refer to as “The People’s Republic of Johnson County” (an attempt to claim that the predominantly Democratic country containing Iowa City is “leftist”). The custodian who started the fatal incident is John Bohnenkamp, a long-term employee of the University of Iowa. “Iowa has the worst black-white disparity in terms of comparative incarceration rates in the U.S.” The black professor who predicted a police killing of a black male to be followed by local indifference, is Dr. Vershawn Young, who teaches rhetoric at the University of Iowa. The white criminal justice instructor who praised Stotler as “a hero” and called for the criminal investigation of Telcom 1 and Telcom 2 is Greg Roth, an ex-policeman who teaches at Iowa City’s Kirkwood Community College. The state whose attorney general’s office issued the report exonerating the deputy is of course Iowa. That state has the worst black-white disparity in terms of comparative incarceration rates in the U.S. – this in a nation with more than 2 million prisoners, more than 40 percent of whom are black even as blacks comprise just 12 percent of the country. I am not going to give the names of the telecommunications workers who reported a “cold-blooded” police murder or of other individuals who witnessed a very different version of the events than what was suggested in the initial local police and press reports and in the “final” AG report. The bar from which Bohnenkamp existed before assaulting Deng is named “The Hawkeye Hideaway.” It is located a block west of Gilbert Street on Prentiss Street in Iowa City, Iowa, across the street from The Electric Supply Company, whose parking lot provided the setting for Deng’s death. The white university professor quoted above is named Cliff Messen, who recently noted the following in a courageous Press-Citizen column: “Deng, who probably died a frightened man who thought he was defending himself against a raging drunk, is buried.” “Meanwhile, the residents of Johnson County look on in silence:” “The white ones quietly appreciating their privilege;” “The black ones learning that they cannot be caught even littering.” “Where are the white community leaders who will stand up and say, ‘This is simply wrong?’” “One lesson of Barack Obama’s election is that there is curiously little to be concretely gained by most black Americans.” No such leaders have been found in Iowa City, where it is one thing to claim to be anti-racist because of your willingness to caucus and vote for a “black but not like Jesse” candidate and president who has bent over backwards not to offend white sensibilities. It is another thing to confront the real daily privileges afforded by white supremacy and the living legacy and ongoing reality of anti-black racial oppression in American life. For what its worth, the difference between (A) electing a bourgeois president (or mayor or governor) who happens to be black (if thoroughly enmeshed with the predominantly white corporate and imperial elite) and (B) undertaking a serious engagement with deeply entrenched social disparities when it comes to attacking the problem of racism, is well understood in much of the black community. For many black Americans and for anti-racists of all colors, one lesson (already clear to many beneath but fading excitement over the emergence of a technically black chief executive) of Barack Obama’s election is that there is curiously little to be concretely gained by most black Americans, and more perhaps to be lost (see below) from (A). Only (B) carries serious promise of advancing racial equality. Here is a message I received from a teacher of black students in the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) last February: “Today, I asked a class for which I was subbing (high-school English students, about a dozen, all-black, at one of CPS's actually nice high-school facilities) what they thought of Obama. Their initial reaction was one of, for lack of a better way to say it, pride and joy.” “But upon closer inspection, this turned out to be a rather shallow sentiment. For when I asked them if they expected any real changes under Obama, they all said no.” “So while they are (currently) happy he is in the White House, they know full well that he will be no different from any other president -- and it's not something they only know ’deep down.’ They know it pretty close to the surface.” I am reminded of the teacher’s reflections as I review the John Deng episode in Obama-mad Iowa City. “The Obama ascendancy could be translating into change for the worse.” It strikes me, though, that “no change” might be an understatement. For many African-Americans, the Obama ascendancy could be translating into change for the worse insofar as the election of a technically black president reinforces the longstanding conventional white illusion that racism has disappeared and that the only obstacles left to African-American success and equality are internal to individual blacks and their community – the idea that, in Derrick Bell’s phrase, “the indolence of blacks rather than the injustice of whites explains the socioeconomic gaps separating the races.” “It’s hard,” Leonard Steinhorn and Barbara Diggs-Brown have noted, “to blame people” for believing (falsely in Steinhorn and Diggs-Brown’s view) that racism is dead in America “when our public life is filled with repeated affirmations of the integration ideal and our ostensible progress towards achieving it.” In a similar vein, the black scholar Sheryl Cashin noted years ago that “there are [now] enough examples of successful middle-class African-Americans to make many whites believe that blacks have reached parity with them. The fact that some blacks now lead powerful mainstream institutions offers evidence to whites that racial barriers have been eliminated; the issue now is individual effort.” And what could trump the attainment of the U.S. presidency – the most powerful office on Earth – in feeding and locking in that belief? The black Urban Studies professor Marc Lamont Hill said it well in an important CounterPunch critique in early February of 2008: “For whites, an Obama victory would serve as the final piece of evidence that America has reached full racial equality. Such a belief allows them to sidestep mounds of evidence that shows that, despite Obama's claims that ‘we are 90 percent of the way to equality,’ black people remain consistently assaulted by the forces of white supremacy.” At the same time, Obama’s victory could perhaps be stoking the fires of an ugly white backlash that gets taken out on defenseless people like the late John Deng. The arrival of a smooth-talking black president gets one kind of reception from white upper-middle-class AcaDemocratic liberals in a “progressive” town like Iowa City. It may elicit a very different sort of feeling from less privileged white people like John Bohnenkamp, Terry Stotler, and Greg Roth. Paul Street in an author in Iowa City, Iowa. He is the author of many books, including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (New York, 2007).