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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

Local protests were signs of society listening, and changing

There is societal change going on, right in the middle of a global pandemic.

(New parents have a challenge in answering their child’s question someday: “What was going on when I was born?”)

Whether it’s the Iowa football program, or the nation as a whole, attitudes are shifting about racial inequities. That certainly is not a new issue. Newscasts showing protests, and in some cases, riots in response to George Floyd’s death while being detained by law enforcement are not unlike the newscasts I saw in my family’s Fort Dodge home in 1968.

The only difference is, now the newscast is dominated by the protests and COVID-19, while then it was about civil rights and the Vietnam War.

The video shot from a cell phone by a teenager watching Floyd struggle for his final breaths proved to be the final straw for many Americans. Whether it was pent up emotions from being isolated during the coronavirus quarantine, or just a realization that in 2020 this is no longer going to be accepted as status quo, the number of people willing to get out and protest over such a long period of time seems to indicate a truly inspired call for justice.

That’s really what it is. The line, “with liberty and justice for all” in the Pledge of Allegiance is really the crux of the protest, whether it’s marching in the streets or taking a knee during the National Anthem before a ballgame.

I think much of the nation even came to a new realization about kneeling during the anthem. Now, many are coming to terms that it is simply a guaranteed right granted through the sacrifices of those in the armed forces to protest what they see as inequitable application of justice. An acknowledgement that my experiences are not your experiences.

Many, including Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, are learning through this process that perhaps such a peaceful protest is a justified way to express displeasure on how justice is applied in this country. But, now, let’s not overcorrect. If an Iowa high school team kneels for the anthem, they’re called disrespectful on social media. If the other team stands, they’re called racists.

It doesn’t have to be either/or. How about everyone chooses their own course, and we let them? Without judgment.

Maybe, through all of this, we’re all becoming better listeners. That’s why, here in rural (mostly white) southern Iowa, it’s the local newspaper’s duty to address how widespread these realizations are in sweeping the nation. It’s important for us to cover whatever people are doing here to raise awareness, to reflect that this attitude change is filtering down to our local level.

Last week the News Advertiser received a message that was critical of the newspaper’s coverage of a group of peaceful young protesters along Sumner Avenue in Creston, near the intersection of Highway 34. We were accused of stirring the pot and spewing hate.

I respectfully disagree. Yes, in many places there were rioters who were simply taking advantage of the situation for “opportunistic criminality,” as I saw it described. To see businesses destroyed and looters walking away with their products is disheartening. I just can’t wrap my head around the notion of how that can advance the message in a meaningful way.

But, that was NOT the behavior of those kids peacefully protesting with signs in Creston. In fact, I honked and waved as I drove by them. I wanted them to know someone appreciated that they are showing concern for something bigger than themselves, while not causing harm to others.

In 2020, young Creston students are no longer isolated from people of color. We are a more accurate version of the world around us than 35 years ago when Deb and I moved here.

It’s important that we acknowledge injustice, the history of racism in this country, and what our neighbors are fearful of as they navigate through society. A rogue cop such as Derek Chauvin, kneeling on the neck of George Floyd until his heart stopped, should not discredit the noble work of a vast majority of law enforcement officers who serve to protect us.

However, we have to acknowledge at some point that it’s not an isolated incident, either. These things are happening across America far too often, and to peacefully protest injustice in hopes of a better world for everyone is not something the newspaper should turn away from.

As a University of Iowa graduate and one of two members of our family who have worked for UI athletics in the past, I’m also proud that coach Ferentz is acknowledging comments by former players that the culture needs to change so all players can feel free to be who they are without fear.

The limits of power are shifting. Generation Z is not going to sit back and allow the voiceless to absorb injustice. More evidence of change came in the form of a 6-3 Supreme Court decision Monday that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and lesbian people from employment discrimination.

Likewise, bullying behavior as coaches that pushes “demanding” into “demeaning” is no longer accepted, just as many are trying to finally erase racist elements from society. A non-violent crime should not end in a death, regardless of the suspect’s history.

Equality under the law is a simple concept, really. But, it’s been so difficult to achieve.

Let’s applaud the efforts of local young people to work toward that change. It they are truly “stirring the pot,” maybe it’s in a positive way.


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Twitter: @larrypeterson

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