The ACLU of Iowa has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of five protesters who have been banned from the Iowa Capitol Complex. The ban blocks their fundamental constitutional rights, including those of free speech, assembly, and their right to petition their government.
Jalesha Johnson, Louise Bequeaith, Haley Jo Dikkers, Brad Penna, and Brandi Ramus are among a group of 17 supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement who have been banished by the Iowa State Patrol from the State of Iowa Capitol and the Iowa Capitol Complex grounds for either 6 months or 1 year.
The Capitol Complex is approximately 24 city blocks and includes many "traditional public forums"—places like the West Capitol Terrace, outdoor green spaces, sidewalks, streets, paths, and areas around public monuments.
There is perhaps no more important traditional public forum in Iowa than the State Capitol, which is a place intentionally designed for Iowans to gather and speak to an audience of leaders from all three branches of state government.
The ban means the protestors are unable to participate in demonstrations organized by BLM or other groups on the grounds. The ban also prevents the protesters who were banned from communicating directly with legislators and the Governor’s office, including for some during the upcoming 2021 legislative session.
We’re challenging Iowa State Patrol's stunning misuse of power to try to keep these Iowans from exercising their protected free speech rights to call for urgent reform to policing. You can't block people's right to protest simply because you don't like them or think they've behaved in a way you disagree with, or even if they've been arrested during a prior protest.
Additionally, there is absolutely no statutory authority for such a ban. Iowa Code section 716.8(1), cited by Iowa State Patrol as the Iowa law that authorizes the ban in the letter some received, merely sets out the penalty imposed on a person who "knowingly trespasses upon the property of another" as a simple misdemeanor punishable with a fine, and allowing officers to arrest the person so charged.
Five Protesters Filing Suit
The individuals filing the lawsuit are:
Jalesha Johnson, Des Moines, is a student at Drake University earning her degree in secondary education, and works at Run DSM, a Des Moines Public Schools creative arts program. She is also the culture director and organizer for Des Moines BLM, in which role she helps plan events for the group. She received a one-year verbal ban.
"As a young person, as a Black person, as a woman, in professional spaces, our voices are not heard. We’re not asked to the table. The Capitol protests were a way to ensure we were at the table when these decisions were being made that impact the city we pay taxes in, we work in, we live in," Jalesha said.
"Legislators and the Governor can ignore our calls. They can ignore our emails. We can’t sit face to face with them. Now, they’ve taken away the best way we had available to be heard by an audience of legislators and the Governor. How are we supposed to be heard now?"
Louise Bequeaith was born and raised in Des Moines and now attends college in St. Paul, Minnesota. She received a 1-year verbal ban.
"The Capitol was a place where it felt like our voices were being heard. It felt like our actions were being taken seriously. Up until then, it felt like a lot of leaders in Iowa weren’t taking us seriously and it felt like they didn’t care about the problems we were fighting for," Louise said.
"The Capitol is the center of a lot of power. That is where a lot of decisions that affect change are made. It’s a place where people are told to meet with their representatives. But with these bans, we’ve been told if we’re fighting for Black lives, they don’t want us there."
Haley Jo Dikkers is a recent graduate of Drake University, where she majored in psychology. She is now working as an educational assistant to elementary school children, helping families manage "pod learning" and adjust to remote education. She received a 6-month verbal ban.
Haley Jo says that the ban is not only unfair, it's also intimidating because it is unclear. "I learned that others believed the Capitol Complex extends further than I had even realized, and included even public sidewalks and streets. They never provided me with a clear description of the areas from which we were banned. Because I still have not been provided with a clear description of the Capitol Complex grounds that I am banned from, even when I am around the East Village, or drive through a street near the Capitol, I have anxiety that I am inadvertently wandering into the Capitol Complex grounds. I feel afraid that I could be arrested.”
Brad Penna owns a coffee shop in Des Moines and has worked in higher education with a focus on restorative justice. He also holds a master’s degree in theology. He received a 6-month verbal.
"The majority of the people banned from the Capitol are organizers with Des Moines BLM, so it stifles any sort of protesting there. There hasn't been a large protest there in a while, and that’s because a lot of people planning these marches and protests are banned from the Capitol. In my mind, the ban is just a way to silence dissent," Brad says.
Brandi Ramus, Des Moines, runs her own hairstyling business and is the mother of two children. She received a 6-month written ban. That means she can no longer protest there. It also means she can no longer roller skate there or attend weekly yoga classes held at the Capitol.
"I feel like our Capitol is a powerful place," Brandi says. "A place our community gathers quite a bit, whether it be for protesting or for exercising. So not being able to be there has limited my ability to connect in those ways with people and also to use my voice. I feel really confused and angry about what is happening to me and I feel scared about what is happening to people of color as a whole. The police are silencing Black people and allies—and that’s really, really scary."
The ACLU of Iowa legal team is joined by cooperating Des Moines civil rights attorneys Nathan A. Mundy of Mundy Law Office, P.C., and Glen Downey of The Law Offices of Glen S. Downey, LLC.
The lawsuit asks that the court block the bans so that the five can return to the Capitol Complex to exercise their constitutional rights, as well as damages and attorney's fees.