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End discrimination against black youth in Iowa City and its public spaces.


Black Kids Play Too


On June 17, 2015, a 15-year old boy was with friends at the Robert A. Lee (downtown) Recreation Center. Someone at the Recreation Center called the police when they determined the group was getting "too rowdy." This is a bias that our black youth often face when they are in public spaces together.  When police arrived, the officers asked the youth to leave.  When our 15-year-old asked the police why they were being asked to leave, he was perceived as "resisting." Iowa City Police Officer Travis Graves tackled our unarmed, non-threatening, calm, mild-mannered 15-year-old.  Below is a video of the interaction, taken by another young person who watched as his friend was knelt on and screamed at by the officer.  Following this assault by the officer, this boy was charged with trespassing and interference with official acts.  Recreation Center video, which has not been shared with the general public, corroborates the youth's version of the events.

Problem Statement

We believe recreation centers are important community resources where our youth should feel welcomed, safe, and included. We believe Iowa City is a place that seeks to value fairness and reject bias or mistreatment based on race. We believe that the police should respond to children with de-escalation techniques, not physical aggression, intimidation, and breaching the trust and openness our children have been told they should have with the police.  

Black children are often perceived as older than they actually are, are treated as mini-adult criminals, and profiled in similar ways to black adults.  Black people are often unjustifiably considered looming threats.  This reality is particularly problematic when we compare the ways that police, media, school officials, and other adults in power, treat and talk about black children vs. the ways these entities treat and talk about white children.  When black children are at play, labels such as “altercation,” “rowdy” or even “gang-related activity,” are used to deem our children’s play deviant.  When white children play, it's considered horseplay, flirting, or even "boys being boys."  

The Lee Recreation Center should not have a practice of automatically calling the police when they feel overwhelmed by our kids’ playing.  This type of bias often amounts to “too many black kids are in one place” in public spaces in Iowa City and abroad. We believe Iowa City is not living up to its “liberal” ideals!  We, Black community members, need our children to be seen as children, and not as criminals.  We need them to be treated and provided the same opportunities as white children.  We need Iowa City, and the world, to know that #BlackKidsPlayToo!


To this end, we demand that the Iowa City City Council:

1.  Require City Manager Tom Markus and/or Police Chief Samuel Hargadine conduct a formal investigation of Officer Travis Graves’s actions on June 17, 2015 at the Lee Recreation Center. The investigation must be conducted with utmost transparency and accountability, including, but not limited to, public release of: Lee Recreation Center video documentation, call for service, use of force report, etc.

2.  Require the Iowa City Community Police Review Board conduct an independent investigation of Officer Travis Graves’s actions on June 17, 2015 at the Lee Recreation Center.  

3.  Revise city (including police) policies, practices, codes, and other governing structures, to ensure and enforce the protection of citizens’ rights to congregate, play, and live freely.

4.  Require the Iowa City Human Rights Commission conduct an independent investigation into human rights violations by police and other city staff when said entities have citizens disperse or vacate public accommodations.

5.  Allocate permanent financial, human, and other resources to Iowa City Police Department for (re-)training of ALL officers, (re-)staffing, and initiatives that build authentic, positive, reciprocal, relationships with community members, particularly children. 

A. Training topics must include, but not be limited to:

  • de-escalation as required first technique of engagement
  • developmentally appropriate interventions for engaging children (e.g., no physical force, no pepper spray), 
  • privilege, power, oppression, and anti-oppression (e.g., anti-racism, anti-sexism),
  • cultural competency, 
  • trauma, as related to children and racial stressors, and 
  • engaging with children and adults with learning disabilities, behavioral/personality disorders, and/or mental health challenges.

B. Training must be intensive, multi-session, sequenced, ongoing, and officers must be held accountable for satisfactory completion and progress via standard performance review.  Unsatisfactory progress--expressly the use of officer excessive force and disproportionate racial/ethnic minority contact--must result in immediate unpaid suspension of officer and begin a formal, independent investigation oversaw by the Community Police Review Board.

6.  Allocate permanent financial, human, and other resources to Iowa City Parks and Recreation for: 1) (re-)training of ALL employees, (re-)staffing, initiatives that build authentic, positive, reciprocal, relationships with community members, particularly children, and 2) increased programming.

A.  Immediate policy change must include Parks and Recreation staff using de-escalation techniques and positive engagement before making calls for police service, including, but not limited to, consulting Parks and Recreation staff supervisor on call.

7.  Allocate permanent financial, human, and other resources for therapy services rendered to children traumatized by police.

8.  Allocate increased financial, human, and other resources to community agencies proven to best serve Black children.




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  • Iowa City City Council

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