Jun 29, 2021 - News

Crackdown at Des Moines City Council meeting ends in arrest

Protesters stand with signs at the Des Moines City Council meeting on June 28, 2021.

DSM Mayor Frank Cownie asked people who stood in chairs and disrupted Monday's council meeting to leave. Screenshot of the city of DSM’s live meeting video

At least one person was arrested and multiple people were removed from DSM's City Council meeting last night, following multiple warnings about disruptions, Police Sgt. Paul Parizek said.

Why it matters: While citizens aren't guaranteed an absolute right to speak at public meetings, it's considered to be an effective way for the public to communicate with elected officials.

  • City leaders say uncivil or out-of-control meetings make it difficult for the government to function and for the voices of everyone to be heard.

Catch up fast: Tensions have escalated for months, and the return of in-person City Council meetings in June gave many another outlet to express frustration over what they believe is a lack of progress on issues involving police reform.

  • Speakers attending the public meetings have at times directed profanity at council members, and struggles in maintaining decorum have resulted in meetings going as long as 14 hours or delays due to crowd disruptions.
  • Of note: Multiple public speaking rule revisions sometimes left speakers with less than 30 seconds.

What they're saying: Speakers have constitutional rights that could be violated if DSM allows some to talk but restricts specific viewpoints, the ACLU of Iowa warned in comments to Axios yesterday.

  • It is generally permissible for a city to silence speakers who become disruptive but the rules must be applied equally, the ACLU said.

The bottom line: The council took multiple actions Monday linked to the ongoing discord at meetings.

  • A nearly $150K contract for police de-escalation training was awarded to a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. DMPD has been under fire for months for appointing officers to teach de-escalation who themselves have histories of excessive force or have been accused of racial profiling.
  • A resolution unanimously approved by the council voiced support for the police chief and city manager amid calls for their terminations. It describes the protesters who want them fired as "a vocal but small group."

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