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Des Moines passes anti-racial profiling ordinance following tense City Council meeting

The vote included the passing of a resolution that establishes a task force that will work to decriminalize marijuana statewide.

DES MOINES, Iowa — More than two hours of tense discussion at the Des Moines City Council meeting Monday ended in the passing of an ordinance more than two years in the making that many feel is still incomplete. 

The City ordinance includes language meant to eliminate biased policing that is discriminatory against black people. 

The vote also included the passage of a resolution that would establish a six-person volunteer City task force that would work on behalf of the City to decriminalize marijuana statewide.

"We spend a lot of taxpayer money on the arrests of [people who use pot recreationally]," said Billy Weathers, a 29-year-old black artist in Des Moines.

Nationwide, black people are 3.6 times more likely to get arrested for pot than whites. 

In Iowa, they're 7 times more likely.

That's just part of the reason that Weathers agreed to serve as one of the six members of the task force after being asked by the City.

"It was something that I deliberated on a little bit, just because I'm not a politician," said Weathers. "I'm not an activist by trade, and I can't discredit anybody that's been doing this for years. I just know I have a voice and at least reach people in my community."

Monday night, the community made their voices heard at the City Council meeting where resolution was discussed within the context of the anti-racial profiling ordinance. 

Many residents said the ordinance still isn't strong enough--citing that it does not ban all pretextual stops.

"This is the bare minimum!" said Des Moines resident Jaime Izaguirre, over the Zoom call. "This is not your meeting, this is our meeting. The residents of Des Moines. You work for us. Don't forget that."

The meeting became tense when a black woman, Indira Sheumaker, was cut off for speaking past the one-minute mark that others had far surpassed. Several citizens who publicly commented on the call after Sheumaker used their time to denounce the Council for dropping Sheumaker from the call.

"People of color are being silenced and cut off especially if their views aren't moderate. This is racist," said Buffy Jamison. "Racist." 

When the public comment was over, council members asked for Sheumaker to be added to the call again and finish her comments, which she was able to do. 

Now that the ordinance and resolution were passed, the decriminalizing marijuana task force will have until October to report their recommendations on decriminalizing marijuana to the council.

The passing comes two weeks after Des Moines Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched to the lawn of Mayor Frank Cownie, demanding that the City prioritize and move the ordinance forward.

“This historic ordinance is a bold and positive step forward for Des Moines and will serve as a model for other communities around the country,” said Mayor Frank Cownie in a City statement following the meeting. “This measure should be viewed as an important beginning for our community to work together, make a positive difference and improve our understanding of each other.”

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