Iowa, It’s Time For Radical Systemic Change

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Guest op-ed from Yena Balekyani, an organizer and marcher in the recent Des Moines-area protests following the murder of George Floyd.

Across the globe, millions watched a Black man in Minnesota lie on the ground for nearly nine minutes, begging for his life, while a white officer pressed his knee on into his neck, killing him, all in broad daylight. And as of today, true justice is still yet to be served for George.

This is not the first time a Black man or womnx has faced a violent death at the hand of the police, and unfortunately, unless things change systematically in this country, George Floyd will not be the last victim of police brutality and violence.

The same corrupt system we were fighting against then is the same now. Except this time, this generation has declared that there will be no more negotiations on whether Black Lives Matter. 

Instead, there will be demands to change the unruly and corrupt anti-Black racist systems that victimize and treat Black bodies like weapons to be violently disarmed. This is why I am on the streets every day, to take up the space of those who have left us, because for too long, Black bodies have been told they do not belong anywhere, and that our voices are on mute.

Black Lives not mattering was demonstrated here in Iowa, when non-violently protesting injustice were met with tear gas, mace and other violent means against our bodies. I personally experienced police violence, and it was only another reminder that the current police system does not care to protect Black bodies.

But no more.

If we do not learn from our shameful history in this country and choose radical steps moving forward, this country will continue to crumble til it falls. From our education system to our justice system, there must be radical changes, not just conversations. 

Simply having conversations where elected officials pretend to take notes, never to be heard from again outside of campaigning doesn’t work for Black folks and their allies anymore. That will not bring the radical change needed.

I have been an Iowa resident for 15 years, and hundreds of Black men and womnx have brutally died at the hands of police and white men since. I thought America would be safe for us, only to find out it is another war zone, and Black people are the ones under fire for simply being Black.

Being Black in America, I realized my body was radicalized the moment I was born, and now I had no choice but to join the fight, as all of our lives are on the line. In this fight, I am for the radical systematic change of American institutions. Reforming systems only reforms racism into a different face like slavery was reformed into the prison system. Reformation is complacency with racist ideology already at play in these institutions. We cannot have that anymore.

To change the justice system, America has to first come to terms with its racist history of policing and how it is carried out in every police department and our law-making institutions in America. Each institution has to then actively work against the racism built into it; silence and complicity will no longer be tolerated!

For places like Iowa, this means we have to start asking why Black Iowans account for only 4% of the state’s population but make up 25% of the jail population, and then commit to working to systematically change it. People in positions of power have to make action plans to fix the system and condemn racist, violent and aggressive behavior carried out by their department towards Black people such as targeting people with pretextual stops while driving Black.

Radical systematic change is what needs to happen for Black lives in America and our Iowa Nice towns to be safe. This means the police need to be defunded and abolished, and the money allocated to education, mental health services and to other community service programs that serve the community equitably. Legislators must pass racial profiling bans throughout America and citizens should have the right to a civil remedy when police officers have abused their power or used pretextual car stops to harass individuals because of their color.

Police officers who abuse, engage in misconduct, and corrupt the system must be held accountable to the fullest extent. This should include felony charges and being barred for life from ever working in any capacity as a law enforcer for those fired for misconduct, use of excessive force, and murder such as in George Floyd’s case.

The Black community is under fire, and it is up to the white community and our lawmakers to stop empathizing and start acting. Time to stop being just an ally and be anti-racist. Those who claim to love Black America must show it, and our laws must reflect it, otherwise, those in this fight will still be on the streets, in the courtrooms and everywhere till changes are made.


By Yena Balekyani
Posted 6/09/20

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3 Comments on "Iowa, It’s Time For Radical Systemic Change"

  • The proposal to defund the police will not go far in most of the country unless/until it is much better explained than has happened so far. If the police are defunded, what happens when someone comes home and finds out their apartment has been broken into and burgled? What happens if someone discovers that their car has been vandalized? If someone is being stalked? If a child is missing? If someone is mugged? If a driver spots another driver who is going south in the northbound lane of the highway? If someone finds a lost wallet and wants it to be returned to the owner? If those questions are already being answered, the answers have yet to reach many of us, including many of us who do pay attention to the news and current issues.

  • My previous response seems to have mysteriously “disappeared.” In a nutshell:
    1. George Floyd didn’t deserve to die and this was a tragedy
    2. George Floyd wasn’t a “saint”, and had a long and violent criminal record.
    3. 19 unarmed Blacks were killed by police in 2019
    4. 20 Blacks were killed in Chicago last Sunday via “Black on Black” crime
    5. Media tends to ignore “Black on Black” crime and focus on fanning racial tensions
    6. Defunding police departments is not a good idea and would hurt the most vulnerable

  • I have asked many of the same questions that A. D. has raised. As I define it, defunding the police means taking specific duties away from the police and shifting the money for those duties over to, for example, funding a corps of mental health workers who will be the lead responders in those situations where someone is suffering from a mental health issue, or in domestic disputes. Another part of defunding would be shifting money over to improving social conditions in the neighborhoods, such as employment, housing, etc. So why aren’t we doing a better job of educating the broader public? We on the left do a bad job of “selling the product”.

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