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A rally planned to show support for members of law enforcement in Cedar Rapids on Saturday has been canceled. According to the organizer of the rally, Michael Lambert, the event had to be canceled due to pushback from an unlikely source – the police department itself.
“Three days before, in the afternoon, I got a call and they had changed everything for our plans,” Lambert said. “We had the motorcycles, the vehicles, the veterans coming in. With social distancing a concern, we were going to use the road. They took away the roadway and told us we couldn’t park where we were parking. We mentioned some threats about some of the groups coming in that were going to block the roadway and the pathway. We asked about the police escort and said hopefully they’d clear it out because of the threats against three or four of us.
“We were told they wouldn’t escort us and if we met with (counter-protesters) retreat and go home. And if there would be any altercations, they’d arrest us all.”
Since news of the planned rally first emerged, counter-protestors have been making anonymous phone calls, issuing threats and causing all sorts of issues on social media.
Organizers were preparing for around 1,400 people to attend the rally. Walking the street was one idea to maintain social distancing, but the police said absolutely not.
It was an abrupt change from what Lambert said he expected after his original conversation with the police department. He thought there would be a police escort.
“They said there wasn’t going to be an escort and if there were any altercations everyone would be arrested, they’d review video footage and release depending on video footage,” he said.
Lambert, as well as the police department, were concerned about vandalism to vehicles. He said they’d have people there to watch for it and hoped the police department would have a presence as well, but Lambert was told they did not call in any extra support for the event.
The police department suggested a route to be walked on a sidewalk.
“Out of site, out of mind so we didn’t agitate counter protesters,” he said.
Lambert said he didn’t obtain a permit for the rally because he was told he didn’t need one since they hadn’t been giving them out to other people who had been doing protests.
“They assured me we weren’t going to get any different treatment than they were,” Lambert said. “The first officer I talked with said they’d be neutral and give the exact same treatment, same service. They’d give an escort if we wished. Asked if we would please block one side of the roadway to divert traffic around us. Then, three days before they completely changed everything.”
Without a police escort, a threat of likely vandalism to vehicles and two potentially large crowds, Lambert felt like he had little choice.
“We had so many combat veterans coming in who don’t know the word retreat,” he said. “Soldiers don’t retreat. The police department said you will retreat or we’ll arrest you all. We decided we’d be too packed in and have too close of quarters without a police escort. At that point, tensions will rise and it would not be a safe situation.”
The event is now planned for July 25 in Marion.
“You want to talk about mad citizens,” Lambert said. “There were people who had hotels here and others who were traveling in who were very, very upset wondering what’s going on. A lot of people had comments about hoping the city didn’t give special privileges to the counter-protestors and not to us. It got pretty heated on the event page.”
Lambert had to shut the event page down. He received notification late Thursday night that people on the page were being doxxed.
As for the threat of citing or arresting anyone who walked along the road, thus blocking traffic, it should be noted that there have been George Floyd protests in Cedar Rapids. And, yes, those protestors have laid down in the road in protest.
A police officer I spoke with Friday afternoon told me he isn’t aware of any citations or arrests stemming from that display.
UPDATE: The Iowa Standard spoke with Greg Buelow, the public information officer for Cedar Rapids. Read that story here.