In 1947, the landmark film "A Gentleman's Agreement" created a sensation around the issue of Antisemitism in the United States. In that film, Gregory Peck plays a magazine writer who is struggling to find an angle to write a piece about Antisemitism that hasn't been done. Though he is a Christian, he decides that he will make it known that he is Jewish and see how it plays out. A lesson he learns is that people who say they are against prejudice often stay quiet or occasionally talk about it "and think they've fought the good fight for democracy."
As Anne Dettrey, a Dorothy Parker like writer played in the movie by Celeste Holm says, people need to "take the step from talking to action. One little action on one little front.
It's got to be with action, not pamphlets...
It's got to be with people--nice people, rich people, poor people...big and little people.
And it's got to be quick."
In the case of the death of John Bior Deng, this is what seems to be happening. The local Sudanese community, University of Iowa professor Vershawn Young, and other concerned people are looking at this incident as an opportunity to pursue social justice in a center of intellectualism which largely does not act. To this end, Dr. Young and others are taking action to look into how the police and the public address persons of color in our community.
Young has taken the personal step of applying for the Police Citizens Review Board, a commission that "reviews reports prepared after investigation of complaints about alleged police misconduct. It then issues its own written reports that contain detailed findings of fact and conclusions that explain why and the extent to which complaints should be sustained or not sustained. The PCRB maintains a central registry of complaints against sworn police officers and prepares annual reports to the City Council on the disposition of these complaints."
In the case of Deng's death, the jurisdiction is with the County, but the investigation is being done by the Iowa City Police Dept., as is the protocol. Of concern is the degree of fairness that this incident will provoke, given that Deng was a transient black man. Fortunately, there were a number of witnesses to the incident and this should ensure that the investigation is thorough. What is not clear is the degree of transparency that police will provide as the investigation is on-going. To this point, police are not releasing 911 transcripts or much information about their investigation.
If you would like to take action, write to the local papers and the county board of supervisors. If you would like to support Vershawn Young's application to the PCRB, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.