# Racial Disparities



Cannabis criminalization is failed public policy for Iowa

Senator Joe Bolkcom represents Iowa City and has been a leading voice in the state legislature for updating Iowa law on cannabis.

This March 22 marks the 50th anniversary of an important report from the Shafer Commission, a group appointed by President Richard Nixon, tasked with studying marijuana and issuing policy recommendations. The group’s findings called for the decriminalization of cannabis possession in the U.S., but alas, the suggestions went unheeded.

Fifty years later, Iowa remains one of nineteen states where you can still be locked up for minor cannabis possession.

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Iowa detains Black youth at highest national rate

No state in the country has placed a higher proportion of Black youth in juvenile facilities than Iowa, according to a new Sentencing Project analysis. The Black youth placement rate in Iowa was more than double the national average in 2019, and young African Americans in Iowa were nearly nine times as likely as their white peers to be committed to facilities such as “detention centers, residential treatment centers, group homes, and youth prisons.”

Josh Rovner was the lead author of Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration, which the Sentencing Project published on July 15. The two-page report included statistics on youth placement in Washington, DC and the 36 states where at least 8,000 residents are African Americans between the ages of 10 and 17.

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A Martin Luther King, Jr. Day resolution

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”

-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

Remington Gregg reminded me of that observation today in this Twitter thread “on lesser quoted words of Dr. King and sitting in your discomfort as a white person in America.”

As 2020 began, one of my goals was to put a lot of writing energy into coverage of racial disparities or other topics particularly impacting people of color in Iowa. I got off to a decent start a few days into the year with a deep dive on Julián Castro’s critique of the Iowa caucuses, which was partly grounded in this state’s relative lack of diversity. I marked the last Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a post about an exhibit on “redlining” and other racist housing policies in Des Moines. That piece ended up among the 25 most-viewed that Bleeding Heartland published during a year of higher traffic than ever.

But as the year progressed, other pressing political topics–the Iowa caucuses and their aftermath, turnover on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa legislative session, a huge number of competitive election campaigns, and of course the the coronavirus pandemic–consumed most of my headspace.

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Racial disparities already apparent in Iowa's COVID-19 data

For the first time on April 14, the Iowa Department of Public Health released information about novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections by race and ethnicity. The results won’t surprise anyone who has been following the news from other parts of the country: a disproportionate number of Iowans with confirmed COVID-19 infections are African American or Latino.

Activists and some Democratic legislators had pushed for releasing the demographic information after a senior official said last week the public health department had no plans to publish a racial breakdown of Iowa’s COVID-19 numbers.

Meanwhile, Iowa reported its largest daily number of new COVID-19 cases (189) on April 14, fueled by the outbreak that has temporarily shut down a Tyson pork processing plant in Columbus Junction (Louisa County). At her daily press conference, Governor Kim Reynolds again praised efforts by meatpacking companies to slow the spread of the virus and keep workers and the food supply chain safe. However, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) has highlighted unsafe workplace conditions for employees of meatpacking plants, a group that is disproportionately Latino.

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