Meet black Iowa law enforcement officers trying to create change

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It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving at Blades Barbershop on Ingersoll Avenue.

College football was on TV, and songs from Drake’s latest hip-hop album, “Certified Lover Boy,” filled the room. Some barbers sneaked in a dance move or two. I couldn’t help but dance too, once WizKid and Tems’ “Essence” played on the speaker.

On the left side of the store, Kingston Valdez, 5, was starting to fade. He looked at himself in the mirror and said “woooow.” On the right side, Emmanuel Dameron, 9, took on the appearance of twists and turns.

And both left Blades Barbershop with a Thanksgiving turkey for their family.

Their fresh cuts and turkeys were courtesy of the Iowa section of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. A handful of members offered 20 free haircut vouchers for customers 17 and under, as well as 20 free turkeys.

“At Thanksgiving time, everyone wants to be clean and fresh,” Art Rabon, president of Iowa NOBLE, told me at Blades Barbershop. Rabon, 56, is the deputy director of the fifth judicial district of the Department of Corrections.

Rabon smiled as he looked around the room and said “one of our missions is to give back to our community”.

Other objectives: to build trust in the community through transparency and honesty, to increase the representation of blacks and browns in law enforcement and to advocate for change within their respective departments.

“Over the years, walls have been built, trust has been lost… We get it from both sides. We are sold to certain people, ”Rabon said. “But also, a lot of people don’t even know we’re here. They don’t see officers of color – we exist and we are here to get it right.

Iowa NOBLE Chapter Vice President Kenneth Brown agreed.

“It is important that black officers are visible, especially with what is happening across the country,” he said.

“A lot of communities of color go through tough times with law enforcement, and NOBLE is trying to mend those relationships. Some of the issues they face with law enforcement are similar to what black officers sometimes encounter. in their own departments. “

There are about 15 NOBLE members, mostly from the Des Moines metro station. Allies are also members, not just black officers.

Since the Iowa Chapter was formed in 2015, NOBLE has strived to become community leaders – “no gimmicks,” Brown said. Twice a year, NOBLE runs interactive “The Law and Your Community” programs with middle and high school students, teaching young people about their rights, especially when they are arrested by the police. Members organize “coffee with NOBLE” events, inviting any member of the community to sit down and chat with them about everything. They participated in panels on racial profiling, mass incarceration and the role of the police.

When a former Des Moines police officer was accused of insinuating extreme racial violence against a colored staff member, NOBLE was there to publicly condemn the comments.

Forums are underway with students in Des Moines to ask them how law enforcement officers can better serve their community.

There is a lack of conversation about the issues within law enforcement agencies, said Brown, 53. He has worked with the Des Moines Police Department for 31 years.

“Nobody’s ready to reach out and say, ‘Hey, what can we do better? What are the problems ?’ If you don’t want to come to the table and sit and listen, how do you expect any kind of healing? ”Brown said.

“NOBLE wants to be the organization the community can trust when they want honesty and transparency. We sit down with anyone. We are not afraid, we are not backing down.”

Andrea Sahouri covers social justice for the Des Moines registry. She can be contacted at [email protected], on Twitter @andreamsahouri, or by phone at 515-284-8247.

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