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“This law takes our state in the wrong direction.

“For years now, the ACLU and other advocates have been working with lawmakers to pass meaningful racial profiling legislation. Then last summer, legislators on both sides of the aisle promised a new day for Iowa, pledging that they’d make criminal and racial justice reform a priority.

“Instead, this legislative session, we got SF342, which is clearly an effort to shut down public criticism of abuses by law enforcement.

“It gives police even less accountability by codifying broad immunity from many state law claims brought by those who are harmed by police actions. It also stiffens criminal penalties for certain types of protest-related offenses. And it creates an entirely new penalty for people who are attending a lawful protest that turns unlawful, and don’t leave in time.

“This is clearly an effort to shut down well-founded public criticism of abuses by law enforcement and government, especially from Black Lives Matter activists, which this bill is responding to. Further, an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency found that the new crimes and penalties created by this bill will have a disproportionate impact on Black Iowans.

“It’s especially frustrating that this expansion of police powers with fewer checks came in direct response to the thousands of peaceful protestors who have been protesting excessive force and abuse by police. This bill even requires Iowa drivers to pull over for unmarked police cars with plain-clothes drivers. It is simply unacceptable that just one short year after such promises—after bipartisan discussion of second chances; of police reform; of racial justice—that this is what the Legislature and Governor did instead. Elected officials should keep their promises.”

“Iowans have a fundamental right to peacefully protest. While the plain text of the new law doesn’t criminalize lawful protest, protesters saw first-hand last summer that police sometimes respond to lawful protest by arresting protesters with little or no basis. This was shown by the scores of arrests of BLM protesters, and even journalists, whose criminal charges were later dropped by prosecutors, or whose cases ended in acquittals, because there was simply no evidence against them.

“Lawmakers know that the new penalties and crimes in this law will intimidate those who want to exercise their right to protest while understanding that in doing so, they risk unlawful police violence and arrest. Because this law intends to stifle lawful protesters, it is nothing less than an attack on free speech in our state.

“Outrageously, the law even creates liability from lawsuits for drivers exercising ‘due care’ who hit, harm, or even kill someone protesting who is blocking a street—which could normally be brought by a person injured by a vehicle in a number of circumstances. That applies even when the protester is in the street lawfully, either because no permit was required, or because they have a permit.

“The First Amendment guarantees citizens the right to voice their concerns and hold all government actors, including police, accountable. And when it comes to the fine line of enforcement and protecting the rights and liberties of Iowans, the ACLU of Iowa always stands ready to bring litigation as necessary to protect the right to peaceful protest in Iowa. We will be watching to see how this new law is enforced.”

Author: Press Release


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