📢5 moments from June 3 bodycam tape
June 3 has been on our minds. With the release of police bodycam footage, I picked out some moments to remember from this.
September 08, 2020 | Letter No. 11
I like to think it was my pestering follow up emails that led to the release of bodycam footage from June 3, the night Iowa City Police assisting Iowa State Patrol deployed tear gas and flashbangs against the Iowa Freedom Riders. But as with everything it was more likely a confluence of motivations.
First, the protesters made the release of this video one of the boards of their platform. Their demands manifested in a sweeping commitment from council. I don’t think it’s particularly farfetched to imagine protester pressure incentivized its release.
Second, some on Council who had already seen it seemed to think it was vindicating for the city, showing “exactly who made the call” that night. While the footage is much less conclusive, if someone did believe that going in, it’s easy to imagine someone thinking such a release might deescalate some of the pressure we’ve been seeing in the city since June.
Third—and most convincing to me—during last Tuesday’s meeting, council voted to approve an expensive $50,000 contract with California-based Office of Independent Review to investigate June 3. It gave OIR 90 days to complete their report. Back in June, an investigation was to be completed by Aug. 1. While the bodycam footage released Sept. 3 shows us little that social media didn’t the night of, it was something to satiate a public who still lacks clarity on why things happened the way they happened.
With the release of this video, I thought I’d pull five moments that feel worth mentioning and a little commentary following to explain why this, not that.
Caveat: The footage offered in these videos is chaotic. We know that Iowa City Police assisted Iowa State Patrol June 3. We know the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office was represented. The speakers listed below are best approximations after multiple viewings.
I. The briefing.
At 1:11, Camera circles with a few other Iowa City Police to discuss what Iowa State Patrol’s orders are.
Camera: Listen, they say they're going to try to breach. *inaudible*
Officer: We need to have a plan because they are going to come and try to engage in violence.
Camera: They are going to make three announcements. (Iowa State Patrol) is going to make three announcements. He will say deploy munitions. … We will deploy at the point that ISP does it. Our directive is that they are not moving passed us
Officer: [pointing at the handful of protesters preceding the masses] Make sure they know that. You need to make sure they know that.
Camera: What do you want me to tell them?
This moment matters because you see police taking in what they’re seeing and determining how to move forward. In this case, they decided to move forward as directed by the Iowa State Patrol.
During the days following June 3, something city employees and councilors commonly brought up to me was the jurisdictional considerations involved June 3. State Patrol runs I-80. State Patrol decided protesters were not going to get there. ICPD is in an MOU with State Patrol to honor calls for service meaning they show up when support is needed.
The argument that many affiliated with the city have made to me is that ICPD didn’t have a choice in answering this call. However, the notion that our municipal police department was forced to tear gas protesters that night isn’t true.
II. A bad idea?
A protester on a moped told police, “People are angry. They’re going to tell you how they feel. If y’all want my advice, if y’all take a knee at some point, they’re probably going to stand you. If y’all don’t, they’re just going to keep shouting at you.”
At 15:18, Camera approaches the front line where a protester is yelling at police.
Officer: What’s the thought on doing—if they kneel and we kneel? Have we talked about that?
Officer: That might not be a bad idea.
This moment matters because it was one brought up a month ago by Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague and Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih. They argued that this showed a greater degree of awareness on the part of ICPD. It showed they were thinking about alternatives to continued escalation.
And it is true that with State Patrol calling the shots that night, police may have felt pressured about what they could and could not do. It does seem ill-timed that this conversation would happen as law enforcement are lining up to disperse protesters.
III. ‘Do it.’
Iowa State Patrol had started reading dispersal orders. Meanwhile, the line of protesters was close and loud. One protester had a bullhorn, audible from the back of the line:
Protester: I’m used to it … shoot me. I’m used to it. I’m used to it.
A state trooper reads another dispersal order.
State Patrol Bullhorn: This is your final order. Please disperse immediately. Again, I say that is your final order.
And at 18:42, the same speaker tells law enforcement to deploy munitions scattering protesters.
Law enforcement showed up June 3 fully armored and prepared to deploy chemical munitions to scatter protesters. To this, I’ve heard from readers say protesters showed up with masks, goggles, and other protective equipment prepared ready for the attacks by police seen elsewhere.
There is an obvious difference in power here. And given that difference, it is inaccurate to say that a protester showing up with a helmet is asking for a head injury. The equipment then, as now, varied dramatically from protester to protester. So the notion that all or even most protesters were trying to get gassed that night, is untrue. Given the use of chemicals in Des Moines, the use of gas, I don’t think it is unreasonable to come protected.
But I do think there is a way we orchestrate outcomes based on our inputs here. Compare June 3 to Aug. 31. In both instances, protester got close to State Patrol lines. In one, police showed up demonstrating a preparedness to disperse protesters one way or another; in the other, troopers wore what appeared to be their normal uniform. One ended in tear-gassing; the other, in a single arrest after protesters dissipated later that night. Very different outcomes.
Will troopers or police be willing to take the same approach as Aug. 31 after the use of lasers and bright flashlights on the nine troopers’ eyes? I’m not sure.
IV. A scream.
At 19:28, the line of police parts just enough to see a person on the ground. There is a scream. The camera paces behind the line. Protesters run-up to the person on the ground. The police line advances to hit them with pepper spray.
Camera: Hold your lines. Hold your lines. Hold your lines. Police up your lines. Police up your lines. Hold your lines. Police up your lines. Hold your lines. Police up your lines. Hold your lines. Hold your lines.
Police eventually do.
This is an important moment because this a moment in the video we didn’t get from social media. We’d heard rumors of a person injured in the rush away from police lines, but to hear the scream was chilling. This is a moment to sit with.
V. ‘Leave ‘em.’
At 39:25, an Officer asks about the small group of protesters around the protester on the ground.
Officer: “Can we spray these guys? They won’t get up and that’s why everybody keeps…
Camera: “Leave ‘em. Let them enjoy the gas.”
I don’t have a lot to add to this one.
You can watch the full bodycam footage on the city’s Youtube page.
The Press-Citizen published a 1-minute-50 version of this footage.
Your friendly neighborhood reporter,
Zachary Oren Smith
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