Rasmussen: A Des Moines police union weaponizes manipulation

Columnist Olivia Rasmussen discusses Black Lives Matter in Des Moines along with various commentary involved. 

Olivia Rasmussen

Des Moines Police Gold Braid Organization, a police union, sent City Councilman Josh Mandelbaum a letter dated a few days after two tweets by Mandelbaum recently became available to the public.

Mandelbaum’s tweets were in regard to a Des Moines Police Department (DMPD) press release shared on Twitter about the arrests of Black Lives Matter organizers Matthew Bruce and Kristen Wolf Peters. They read as follows:

“These charges come days after a protest that ended without incident. These charges are unnecessary and at best, create an appearance of retaliation. These charges should be dropped. Furthermore, police should work to de-escalate every situation. Filing charges days after a protest that ended without incident do nothing to make our community safer and simply escalate tensions that have been simmering all summer.”

These innocuous tweets prompted the police union to muster up a shady letter riddled with passive-aggressive half-truths and delusion. Right off the bat, the first paragraph ends with, “Unlike you, we have chosen a more professional and direct way of communicating with you. We do not wish to cause any embarrassment to you or the members of the Council the way you have just caused embarrassment to us.” The letter continues.

“If you will remember, as a demonstration of empathy, Police Officers and Senior Command Staff of the Des Moines Police Department went so far as to take a knee to pray with the protestors.”

The Des Moines Register reviewed the letter as well and noted, “The same night police officers took a knee outside the police station on May 31, police used tear gas and pepper spray on protesters near Merle Hay Mall and arrested several people including a Register reporter.”

A video from a protestor outside of the Des Moines police station that evening shows two cops willingly took a knee as the crowd was chanting, “Take a knee!” And it wasn’t until the protesters were continuously asking the remaining cops to take a knee in solidarity that they did for a perfectly executed publicity stunt that only showed the officers kneeling and none of what happened beforehand. I’ve uploaded the video from an anonymous source on Facebook from when this happened, and it can be viewed here.

The letter goes on to say, “The idea that our city would even consider going forward with an organization [Des Moines Black Lives Matter] that appears to be rudderless and implacable, is hard to believe. What has followed has been a ludicrous display of lawlessness, division and the making of irrational demands.”

Here are the demands from the Des Moines Black Lives Matter movement:

  1. Iowa State Legislature votes down HF 2532, which legalizes corporal punishment in Iowa public schools.
  2. Iowa State Legislature supports and passes the “Plan for a More Perfect Union.”
  3. Iowa State Legislature decriminalizes cannabis across the state of Iowa AND expunges the records of all those charged with cannabis-related offenses.
  4. Iowa State Legislature ends juvenile detention AND reallocates resources into education and public mental health services.
  5. Governor Kim Reynolds passes an executive order IMMEDIATELY reinstating the voting rights of all Iowans with felony charges who have served their sentences.

If by “irrational demands” the police union is referring to number three, here are some statistics as to why that demand was on the list:

African Americans are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rates of whites, yet both ethnicities consume marijuana at roughly the same rates. Specifically, a 2020 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union concluded, ‘Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates.’ Authors reported, ‘In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost 10 times more likely to be arrested.‘”

According to We Are Iowa, later demands included:

  • Defunding the DMPD
  • Creating a Civilian Review Board to keep tabs on the DMPD
  • Implementing another eviction moratorium to help those struggling to pay for housing amid the pandemic

The short version of defunding the police means “reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality.” I’m sure that also made the list of “irrational demands” per the police union. Want to talk about irrational? The DMPD recently requested $99,000 to buy ammunition, and City Council approved that, so what’s so “irrational” about requesting to put parts of that $99,000 towards public services like education, housing and mental health? Page two of the letter begins.

“Damage and defacement of the art at Pappajohn is also disgusting but not surprising with this group.” The Des Moines Register reported that “Jeff Fleming, the director of the Des Moines Art Center which operates the sculpture park, told the Register there has been ‘no damage to the artwork’ in recent months.”

The boy who cried wolf mentality is plastered all over this page of the letter, saying that officers have been told they are “not welcome from local businesses.” Problematic police sergeant Paul Parizek was allegedly refused service at the chain coffee shop Dunkin’ Donuts at the beginning of August, and the two employees accused were promptly fired, posing the thought, “It’s almost like fast food employees are held more accountable than the police.”

The snarky remarks from the letter go on:

“The hypocrisy is staggering, and your silence has not gone unnoticed. The difference is we are accountable, and they [Des Moines Black Lives Matter] are not.”

While it’s humorous to read that the DMPD think they’re accountable, this is another reason why groups are still protesting and calling for change. This fallacious letter suggests that the Des Moines police are accountable even though they’ve continuously used excessive force and unethical scare tactics on peaceful protestors utilizing their constitutional rights, all while carefully crafting a narrative that makes them look innocent. That’s not being accountable.

If the aforementioned passive-aggressiveness wasn’t enough, the letter goes on to praise Mandelbaum for giving his time to listen and work with the police department to generate change. Though Mandelbaum is an advocate for non-violence, him not tweeting about it enough must have upset the petulant union. The letter then says, “Your conspicuous absence and lack of leadership has been blatantly evident.” Mandelbaum’s previous praise of listening and working with the police is later completely erased in the letter by saying, “No consideration has been given by you to the men and women of this department.”

The letter talks about Black Lives Matter organizers who have been arrested days after events for feeble “crimes,” claiming that arrests being made after-the-fact is a “de-escalation tactic.”

Officers’ blood being “spilled” is a common theme in this letter to better further their facade of victimization. Assuming that these accusations are surrounding the event that previously took place at the Capitol when protestors organized to hold Kim Reynolds to her word of restoring voting rights to felons, the self-serving narrative given by Parizek doesn’t encapsulate most of the event. Multiple videos show how the police instigated the violence at this gathering. The gathering resulted in 17 arrests. The Iowa Informer reported:

“As chaos broke out, officers can be seen tackling and dragging people to the ground. Pepper spray was deployed against several protesters. Some tried to ‘de-arrest’ others, a common protest tactic described by Des Moines Black Lives Matter in a Thursday morning statement as ‘a non-violent response to what is often a violent act by law enforcement’ that involves protesters attempting to pull others away from police as they attempt to arrest them.

‘I didn’t see anyone trying to harm police, just people trying to put their bodies in between the officers and the arrested,’ one eyewitness, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from police, told the Informer.”

Though the entirety of the letter itself is best described as delusional, the ending paragraph is the menacing cherry on top. “Precisely what do you imagine would have happened if we had not protected City Hall, the Federal Courthouse, or the Polk County Courthouse? How would the protest in the Mayor’s yard have gone if armed SWAT officers had not been present to ensure the safety of him, his property and his family? Your inflammatory and accusatory comments are far reaching.”

I was at that event when we marched to Mayor Frank Cownie’s house, and it was peaceful the entire time, from the beginning to the end. The surrounding neighborhoods even showed their support with signs and cheers of solidarity as well as free food and drinks for the protestors marching by. There was no destruction or damage of property or people. Cownie came out of his house and spoke with us. Nothing about that evening was even remotely close to this hypothetical disaster the union is claiming the possibility of if they weren’t there, seemingly to make themselves to feel validated.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement describe the letter as “shady back-room communication,” stating that this “is part of an ongoing pattern of intimidation by the Des Moines police.” The letter from the Des Moines Police Gold Braid Organization is a clear attempt to intimidate. It’s embarrassing and concerning that the DMPD is weaponizing its union to threaten and manipulate elected officials into submission and silence.