On the long road to justice

The Iowa Legislature passed law enforcement reforms swiftly and with bipartisan support on June 14, signaling action and not just lip service in response to protesters’ demands for justice and an end to racism. The reforms represent just the first steps on the long road to justice.

Gov. Kim Reynolds identified key legislative priorities that passed the 2020 legislative session, which included the law enforcement reforms contained in House File 2647. It “brings additional levels of accountability for Iowa’s dedicated law enforcement officers. That is good both for our communities and the police to whom we entrust our public safety,” she said in a June 14 news release. The legislation:

• Creates stronger restrictions on the use of chokeholds by law enforcement officers.

• Strengthens the process for certifying and decertifying law enforcement officers to ensure those who have been fired or resign after serious misconduct do not work in Iowa.

• Allows the Iowa Attorney General’s Office additional authority to prosecute officers whose actions result in the death of another person.

• Establishes requirements for annual anti-bias and de-escalation training for officers.

Two key ingredients to the bill’s success were a commitment to listen and to collaborate, ingredients that must become staples for the long journey forward on the road to justice. Iowa Capital Dispatch, a nonprofit, independent news source, reported that the Iowa Black Caucus, the governor’s office and some House members collaborated on the legislation and that legislators and the governor’s office listened to each other. Good, first steps.

Some Black Lives Matter protesters should be invited to the table for future dialogue about measures that must be implemented to work toward eliminating individual and systemic racism. All of us as brothers and sisters in Christ — of different races, ethnicities and cultures — bear responsibility in working to eliminate racism, personally and within our society. We do so through prayer, education and following up with action as the Diocese of Davenport has committed to do. The diocese provides a good list of resources at https://www.davenportdiocese.org/at-home-resources to broaden our understanding. Good, first steps.

“All change requires knowing where we are now and how we got here. Examining the status of African Americans in Iowa is a good place to start,” the Iowa Department of Human Rights (humanrights.iowa.gov/ cas/saa) observes in its June 5 statement.

We need to know that “Black Iowans serve their community and country, attend churches, mentor others toward accomplishment and build businesses that empower employees to achieve success. Educational attainment among Black students in Iowa is improving, and assistance to navigate post-secondary educational opportunities is making a real difference. African immigrants and refugees enhance our understanding of the world and contribute knowledge, culture and growth within our state,” the Human Rights department states. However, disparities remain:

• Unemployment: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in comparison to a statewide unemployment rate of about 2%, more than 9% of Black Iowans experienced unemployment. Black Iowans are more likely to be employed in agri-processing, manufacturing and direct service in the healthcare industry. More than 24 percent of African Americans in Iowa work in this type of service occupation.

• Incarceration: African Americans make up about 4% of the state’s total population, but represent 25% of Iowa’s prison population. While the population of African American juveniles is 6% of Iowa’s total juvenile population, 32% of the youth with juvenile justice system contact are African American (FY2019).

• Poverty: The poverty rate in 2018 for African American Iowans was 30.7%; for Iowa it was 11.2%. The median household income for African Americans was $31,992; the median household income for the state was $59,955.

• Health: Black Iowans suffer higher levels of chronic health conditions at a younger age, including high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. African Americans are more likely to die at early ages from all causes, including heart disease and cancer.

In a searing commentary on racism, Father Bryan Massingale, a theology professor at Fordham University in New York, and a black man, writes, “To create a different world, we must learn how this one came to be. And unlearn what we previously took for granted. And this means that we have to read. And learn from the perspectives of people of color” (National Catholic Reporter, June 1, 2020).” He says we should demand that our parish and diocese sponsor not an evening on race, but a whole series.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has just produced a list of recommended actions for pastors to implement in their communities, which The Catholic Messenger will address in a future editorial. We are in this for the long haul. The long road to justice begins with first steps: prayer, education and action. The Messenger will keep you informed along the way.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor
arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org

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