As the country deals with more controversial police shootings and calls for reform, the Iowa Legislature has made their stance clear: support the police, crack down on protestors and ignore a chance to reinforce a ban on racial profiling.
The “Back the Blue” bill contains multiple provisions that benefit law enforcement officers such as improved sick leave insurance and workers' compensation. It also strengthens qualified immunity for law enforcement, a protection that has been under fire across the country. Qualified immunity makes it harder for citizens to file civil cases against public officials.
The other area of emphasis in the bill is punishing disruptive protests. A charge of rioting would be a felony rather than a misdemeanor if the bill is passed. Shining lasers at police, damaging property and blocking roadways would face increased penalties. However, a person that hits a protestor in the road would receive some qualified immunity.
What the bill notably lacks is a reinforcement of a racial profiling ban suggested by Gov. Kim Reynolds herself. The Iowa Democratic Black Caucus has criticized Reynolds for breaking this commitment and is encouraging her to veto the bill.
The bill has already passed the Iowa House and has a strong chance of making it through the Senate to the governor's desk.
Legislators had a chance to create a bipartisan bill that secured both better opportunities for law enforcement and protections for the minority communities of Iowa. Instead, they chose to make it a punishment for those who protested this last summer while intentionally leaving out a provision that protected civil rights.
The issue is not with the improved employment benefits of law enforcement. Better benefits generally attract better, more qualified workers — something the industry is desperately lacking in a country filled with undertrained and trigger-happy officers.
The issue is with the increased penalties, the lowered accountability for law enforcement and leaving the racial profiling provision in the dust. Further punishing the protestors is a ridiculous response to civil unrest. Why slap the angered communities across the face instead of working to fix the issues that caused unrest? What is the logic in fighting the reaction rather than the cause? An increased fine or jail sentence may temporarily suppress the angered, but it will not keep a population facing injustice at bay.
People put in positions of increased power require increased accountability to maintain the trust of those they have authority over and ensure their conduct stays proper, yet the legislature is trying to lower the accountability law enforcement is subject to by even further strengthening already present qualified immunity protections. How could anyone look at the current political and social environment and think this is the direction we need to go?
Across the country, a new police shooting seems to happen each week. We cannot even make it through the trial of Derek Chauvin without an officer shooting and killing a man in the same metro area. In Iowa, a Des Moines Register reporter was pepper-sprayed at point-blank range and arrested just for being near the protest she was covering.
Finally, the point that makes it clear that this bill was created in bad faith is the fact that a racial profiling provision was not included. Any ban on racial profiling should pass quite easily, but unfortunately, such things have devolved to partisan issues. Yet this idea was suggested by Iowa's own hard red Kim Reynolds, essentially the state's party leader. So the Republican Party had the support and power to include this, but intentionally chose not to. They ignored their party leader, they ignored the people. This bill is not meant to better the state, it's meant to send a message to those that protest racial injustice.