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Coralville residents call for better representation

Mary L. Cohen, Tara McGovern Dutcher and Matthew A. Cohen

Disruption is a step toward rebuilding. Fire can be healing but is harmful when it burns out of control.

In light of 29-year Coralville City Council member Tom Gill’s comments and recent resignation, we write today about our hope for communities that place primary value on care, compassion and collaboration led by people who listen respectfully to one another and consider multiple views of any issue.

Gill’s comments about the Black LivesMatter movement in July were upsetting to many people. 'Eighty percent of the town,' he said, 'doesn’t give a damn about what you are talking about — they are fed up.'

Was there a poll assessing the attitudes of Coralville residents? We’ve seen no evidence to support his claim, and we find his assertion deeply troubling, self-serving and deceitful. We do not want to be misrepresented. We care tremendously about the Black Lives Matter movement. We are fed up with political leaders and media sources communicating falsehoods.

Gill had “zero tolerance for criminals,” according to the Press-Citizen's July 15, 2020 article.

“Tolerance” is the ability to endure, especially something that a person disagrees with. It is much easier to reflect upon and talk about ideas we agree with than to consider and discuss ideas we don’t. Discussing complex issues can be difficult. Holding two opposing views at the same time is extremely difficult.

Continuing to examine Gill’s rhetoric, a “criminal” is any person who has broken a law. For example, a person who is convicted or pleads guilty to exceeding the speed limit or possessing illegal drugs is a “criminal.” Many more U.S. citizens are “criminals” than are represented in the criminal legal system.

The criminal legal system comprises over 6.7 million people in correctional control, according to a Prison Policy Report. These include both incarcerated individuals like the 765 men in Coralville's Oakdale Prison and people who are on probation or parole. People in our communities have experienced a wide range of harms and deserve care and compassion. The criminal legal system is a major human rights disaster in our country that is intertwined with the prison industrial complex, both in need of massive overhaul.

Restorative justice practices are creating more healing spaces for survivors of crime and accountability for their perpetrators. A simple step toward a common sense of humanity for people hurt in these systems is to use personcentered and positively-charged words: people, men, women, youth; not offender, felon, murderer, thief or “criminal.”

When people are flexible enough in their thinking to entertain different viewpoints and maintain grace to listen to others about what informs their thinking on sensitive topics, that is a step toward living together respectfully with a common sense of humanity in a way that promotes care and kindness. This flexible thinking is something we must all work to develop and practice regularly. We invite further conversation, preferably ongoing conversations facilitated by the City Council with as complete a representation of citizens as possible.

We hope the next Coralville City Councilor who takes Gill’s place will have a clear understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement, will represent the entire Coralville community, including all of its Black citizens, too, and will entertain opposing views with grace.

Mary L. Cohen is an Associate Professor of Music Education at the University of Iowa.

Tara McGovern Dutcher is a freelance musician and teaching artist based in Coralville.

Matthew Allen Cohen is a film and media scholar and worked as a professor at the University of Iowa.

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