A large and powerful group of peaceful protesters made their way from the Pappajohn Sculpture Park to Terrace Hill on Tuesday night in Des Moines. Signs were waving and voices were ringing with the same inextinguishable fire as any other protest over the past five nights in solidarity of the death of George Floyd.
Floyd was a 46-year-old Black man who was asphyxiated by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Approximately 800 people in total stood on the front lawn of Gov. Kim Reynolds' mansion while a line of around 50 law enforcement officers in full tactical gear guarded the building. Protesters were instructed to stop in the middle of the lawn and not come any closer.
At 8 p.m., the crowd collectively took a knee and chanted for the officers to follow suit.
Only two did.
Will Robinson, an organizer of the protest, advanced beyond the invisible line to speak with the two officers while Billy Weathers, another organizer, continued to lead the protest.
“I told [the officers] that taking a knee don't mean that y’all are unified with us,” Robinson said.
On Saturday night, a protest in downtown Des Moines ended with dozens of officers taking a knee at the request of the crowd, according to the Des Moines Register.
Robinson said if the officers truly wanted to be unified with the protesters, taking a knee wasn’t enough. Robinson said the officers needed to metaphorically take their badges off and show human vulnerability.
At the behest of Robinson, Weathers and the rest of the crowd, the officers dropped their batons, shields and weapons.
“[The] officers told me they would do it because they do believe that it is unjust out of town,” Robinson said. “They actually told me that they don’t think every race is treated equally. To me, that made me feel like they’re starting to understand and starting to get it.”
Other prominently vocal protesters included Alexis Haley, who led the march and worked hard to keep the crowd calm, and Justyn Lewis, who announced he would be running for Des Moines City Council.
“We remained peaceful, I’m very proud of us for remaining peaceful and very proud of the work that we’ve done,” Haley said. “There is still way more to be done, especially right here in this community [...] but we stood here and we stood our ground and we said what we had to say. Whether or not they listened, we said what we had to say.
“Our lives matter, and I will say that ‘till the day that I die. I will be out here every night until something changes, and we will be out here every night until something changes.”
Sgt. Paul Parizek of the Des Moines Police Department said much like Haley and the other protest leaders, he definitely encourages peaceful protests and for the Des Moines community to have their voices heard.
“The only thing we don’t like to have happen is anybody that wants to choose violence and get violent, not only with us but with the violence of breaking things, disrupting things and looting things in the community,” Parizek said.
Parizek said this particular protest was strong, powerful and phenomenal.
“It’s great to have this amount of people come out, support their message and have their message heard,” Parizek said. “I think it was heard loud and clear, we definitely appreciate that.”
While peace and unity may be the common goal of many officers and protesters, there are still groups who protest through vandalism and violence. With a mandatory curfew in place in Polk County from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. to reduce the risk of damage to businesses, it is widely debated whether these damages are justified given the generations of injustice the Black community has faced.
In reference to the protesters who feel the need to retaliate rather than remain peaceful, Robinson said that’s just what happens.
“It’s like putting a pot on the stove,” Robinson said. “Each time somebody dies, you just turn the notch up more and more. I think this is the pot overflowing.”