JustVoices – Part of a Movement to end  Racial Profiling in Des Moines, Iowa

Harvey Harrison, retired attorney and concerned citizen began working on the issue of racial profiling in 2012. Around that time he learned that racial profiling was one of the leading issues in the Black community.  Harrison attended meetings and listened to people of color describing their lived experience in Des Moines. The vast majority of Black people described personal and/or family experiences of being racially profiled in employment settings, business settings and by police departments while driving. During this same time, public officials, including the leadership of the Des Moines Police Department, denied that Des Moines had a problem with racial profiling. When asked to explain that answer, the police pointed out that few complaints were being filed by people claiming to have been racially profiled.

That was true; few complaints were being filed. When asked, people who were profiled explained why they were not filing complaints:

  • Filing a complaint would be useless.
  • The fear of retribution from the police if a complaint is filed.
  • There is no easy way to file a complaint.

Black people who did file complaints felt that the process was pointless. They shared that filing a complaint had been an intimidating experience that felt more like an interrogation. They said they were never advised of the results of the police investigation into the complaint and no final report was issued.

This disconnect between the lived experience of Black people in Des Moines and the comments of public officials led to the first cycle of profiling interviews Harrison conducted in 2014/15.  He summarized his findings in a report that he delivered to the Des Moines Police. He received no response from the DMPD.

Around that time, several local community organizations also began lifting up the issue of racially-biased policing in Des Moines. Leading the way in this effort was the social and community justice organization, Iowa-CCI. They had formed a Racial Justice Team in 2015 from their statewide membership.  But eventually, the efforts of various groups focused on seeking a law to ban racial profiling in the state of Iowa. After two unsuccessful legislative sessions at the Capitol, CCI decided to pursue a city of Des Moines ordinance to ban racial profiling.  Along that journey the efforts of these groups, along with Harrison, would eventually converge and align towards this common goal.  Here’s a timeline of key events on this five-year ongoing journey:

The data we’ve compiled, from 2014 through 2019, using the city’s own records, is undeniable: Des Moines has a problem with racially biased policing. To date, there has been no formal or serious response from the police department or any other city official about the data collected and analyzed or the conclusions that are drawn from them.

Just Voices – Speaking Truth. Seeking Justice. is Formed

In the spring of 2019, Harrison decided that creating a website to house the data and the stories he and others had collected from Black and Brown people would be helpful in the struggle against racially-biased policing. In a few months, he enlisted the help and services of a small, but dedicated group of people with the talents, skills, and most importantly, passion for the issue.  He found the design, videography, writing, and photography resources needed to make the website a reality.  Harrison is also committed to sourcing Black-owned businesses in all aspects of creating this website.

Soon Harrison would realize it wasn’t just about creating a presence on the internet that was important.  He understood that the work to combat racially-biased policing in Iowa’s capital city would be ongoing. The stories would continue to come forth and the data would continue to build a case for the reality of this ineffective policing practice. Consequently, in the fall of 2019, paperwork was filed to take this effort beyond a website to a non-profit organization.

Just Voices will stay engaged in this fight and continue to seek laws at a local and state level that ban racial profiling in Des Moines, and the state of Iowa.  We welcome other organizations and everyday people to join us.  The website will continue to be a place where concerned citizens, like-minded organizations, academia, legal professionals, and Iowans of all ages can learn more about racially-biased policing in the heartland of America.  We hope that through the website, people can understand the traumatic and long-lasting impact racially-biased policing has on the lives of Black and Brown Iowans.