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Iowa governor signs measure heightening protest penalties, lawmakers and the ACLU respond

Racial Injustice Reporter's Trial
Posted at 2:40 PM, Jun 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-17 19:39:11-04

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP and KMTV) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed into law a pro-police measure that heightens criminal penalties for certain protest activities.

It drew immediate complaints from activists that the changes undermine her promises last year to consider a racial profiling ban and other efforts to prevent officers from mistreating minorities. Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Ross Wilburn says the bill is a giant step backward for Iowa. Reynolds says the bill sends a signal to law enforcement that Iowans have their backs.

The bill makes it easier for police to charge activists for public disorder and engaging in unlawful assembly. It also makes it harder to sue and win monetary damages from police.

ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer issued the following response which read, in part:

"(The law) gives police even less accountability by codifying broad immunity from many state law claims brought by those who are harmed by police actions. It also stiffens criminal penalties for certain types of protest-related offenses. And it creates an entirely new penalty for people who are attending a lawful protest that turns unlawful, and don't leave in time.

This is clearly an effort to shut down well-founded public criticism of abuses by law enforcement and government, especially from Black Lives Matter activists, which this bill is responding to. Further, an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency found that the new crimes and penalties created by this bill will have a disproportionate impact on Black Iowans...

...Iowans have a fundamental right to peacefully protest. While the plain text of the new law doesn’t criminalize lawful protest, protesters saw first-hand last summer that police sometimes respond to lawful protest by arresting protesters with little or no basis. This was shown by the scores of arrests of BLM protesters, and even journalists, whose criminal charges were later dropped by prosecutors, or whose cases ended in acquittals, because there was simply no evidence against them...

...The First Amendment guarantees citizens the right to voice their concerns and hold all government actors, including police, accountable. And when it comes to the fine line of enforcement and protecting the rights and liberties of Iowans, the ACLU of Iowa always stands ready to bring litigation as necessary to protect the right to peaceful protest in Iowa. We will be watching to see how this new law is enforced."

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