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Mayor ‘not OK’ with use of tear gas on Iowa City protesters

June 4, 2020 GMT
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Protesters gather on Washington Street near the Iowa City Police Department on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The largely peaceful protest included a group of several hundred people holding signs and marching through downtown Iowa City. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)/The Gazette via AP)
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Protesters gather on Washington Street near the Iowa City Police Department on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The largely peaceful protest included a group of several hundred people holding signs and marching through downtown Iowa City. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)/The Gazette via AP)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa City’s mayor said Thursday he was “not OK” with the police using chemical agents to disperse protesters and called on all sides to work together to improve the lives of black residents.

Mayor Bruce Teague, who is black and has supported those protesting against police brutality, said he was “heartbroken” that officers with the Iowa State Patrol and Iowa City Police Department used chemical munitions against protesters late Wednesday.

He said the patrol made a determination that protesters had to be blocked from advancing to Interstate 80 because the risk of fatalities were too high.

But addressing the city’s police department, he said later that “we are not OK with the use of agents” against peaceful protesters. He said the city was reviewing its police policies but did not elaborate.

The University of Iowa condemned police brutality in a Twitter message and said that it was reviewing the use of chemical agents against some of its students.

The school faced calls on social media to cut ties with the Iowa City Police Department, even though the mayor said the state patrol made the call on the use of munitions.

The mayor delivered a lengthy speech that was broadcast on Facebook and local television that sought to diffuse tensions, before another night of protests planned in the city. He called on protesters to refrain from property damage and violence and the city’s white residents to listen and work for change.

“Right now black lives are on fire and we need you to come and assist to get this fire out,” Teague said.

Late Wednesday, hundreds of protesters were met by a line of Iowa State Patrol and Iowa City police officers on Dubuque Street blocking their path to the busy highway.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported that a speaker identifying himself as a patrol officer ordered the crowd to disperse and warned that the failure to do so would result in the deployment of chemical deterrents.

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The newspaper reported that officers fired tear gas canisters when the crowd continued marching north. In the following minutes, the crowd backed up, attempted to rally and again march forward, but eventually were forced back.

Video posted on social media shows the crowd chanting “hands up, don’t shoot” when several explosions went off, sending protesters scattering amid plumes of smoke and gas.

Protesters complained that they didn’t do anything to instigate the use of force. Later, video shows officers firing more tear gas when the crowd regrouped.

The protesters had marched through the streets for hours, shutting down intersections and vandalizing some property with spray paint.

Protests around the world are in response to the death in Minnesota of a handcuffed black man, George Floyd, who died after a white police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

Des Moines-area police have condemned use of that tactic, the Des Moines Register reported.

Sgt. Paul Parizek, Des Moines police spokesman, said officers are taught to do “the exact opposite.” In West Des Moines, police Sgt. Jay Bryan said putting a knee on someone’s neck is “completely inappropriate.” Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Alex Dinkla said troopers do not use that technique.