The Iowa State Appeal Board has reached a settlement with five protesters who were arrested and barred from the state Capitol last July. As part of the settlement, Jalesha Johnson, Louise Bequeaith, Haley Jo Dikkers, Brad Penna and Brandi Ramus will receive $5,000 each. Meanwhile, their attorney will receive $45,000 for his work.
Johnson, Dikkers, Penna, Ramus and Bequeaith were among a group of 17 demonstrators that gathered at the state Capitol on July 1, 2020 to advocate against a law that bars convicted felons from voting. As expected, the group was met with pushback from local officials and law enforcement. Ultimately, members of the group were hit with charges of disorderly conduct and assault. In addition, demonstrators received letters informing them that they were banned from the Capitol. Fortunately, four of the previously mentioned demonstrators had their charges thrown out. However, Penna was charged with assault and forced to pay a $250 fine because he allegedly pulled at an officer's arm while they were trying to arrest another protestor.
Continuing to push the issue, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Johnson, Bequeaith, Dikkers, Penna and Ramus. The civil rights organization claimed that the Capitol ban prevented individuals' right to free speech, assembly and the right to petition government officials. After more than a year of work, the protesters and ACLU came out on top, but their victory didn't end with financial gain. Moving forward, the Iowa Department of Public Safety has agreed to continue training its officers on First Amendment-related issues. However, the Iowa Department of Public Safety did not issue an apology to any of the protesters involved.
The events of this week differ from the recent efforts put forth by state officials. Last month, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed the "Back The Blue" bill into law. With Reynolds' signature, the state of Iowa will now classify rioting as a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor. The "Back The Blue" law also increases the punishment for blocking highways and roads while protesting. Reynolds has declared that Iowans that break this new law "will be punished to the full extent of the law."
"The public peace is too important, and the safety of our officers too precious, to tolerate destructive behavior," Reynolds said.
Reynolds's recent legislative maneuver comes after a summer in which several police officers were accused of engaging in destructive behavior that inhibited the peace of many marginalized communities. Most notably, former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd last May and Breonna Taylor was killed after police officers raided her home. In response to the deaths of Floyd, Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others, millions of demonstrators across the world marched through the streets in hopes of ending police brutality. With that in mind, many feel that the "Back The Blue" law targets Black Lives Matter and other protest movements that call for change.
"This law is clearly an effort to shut down well-founded public criticism of abuses by law enforcement and government, especially from Black Lives Matter activists," the ACLU stated.
"Because this law aims to stifle lawful protesters, it is nothing less than an attack on free speech in our state."