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Iowa Can Do Better for Black Citizens

 

February is Black History Month and we want to talk about exactly how Iowa can do better for its Black citizens.

 

Racial justice, especially as it relates to criminal justice reform, has been a battle in our country for centuries. The topic reached new insurgence in the national media since the death of George Floyd in 2020 and Iowa was no exception to this discussion.

 

Strikingly absent from this overall conversation, though, is the statistically disproportionate rates of victimization for people of color, specifically Black citizens. According to the Center for Victim Research, Black people are at risk for serious violence at a rate of 1.5-2 times greater than the white population. Going even further, homicide is the leading cause of death for Black men ages 10-24.

 

The statistics get even worse when you look at Black victimization in Iowa. Black people make up only 4% of the population in Iowa, but Black men are the victims of homicide at a rate of 31%.

 

Iowa can do better for Black Iowans who are crime victims while at the same time advocate for criminal justice reform. Like incarceration, Black people are victimized at a disturbingly higher rate than their white neighbors and should be included in any discussion regarding reform of a system they are thrust into unwillingly. We know that reformative justice occurs more frequently when victims are allowed to meaningfully participate in the system, but because Iowa does not have constitutional protections for victims of crime, they are left out of the conversation. Marsy’s Law for Iowa would change that and give victims equal protection, like the right to be heard at trial, the right to be notified and the right to restitution.

Marsy’s Law for Georgia representative Danica Thompson presents Rep. John Lewis with the Marsy’s Law Victims’ Rights Champion Award.

 

The late Rep. John Lewis, an avid supporter of Marsy’s Law in Georgia, said “When someone is the victim of a crime, they have many questions and feel as if they are alone […] I feel that we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to ensure victims find a sense of safety and understand that they have the support of their community. I’m proud to support Marsy’s Law.” Georgia voters passed Marsy’s Law in 2018 with over 80% of the vote.

 

Rep. Lewis knew the importance of including victims in the conversation about criminal justice reform and it is time Iowans work together to ensure victims have meaningful, constitutional protections in our state. This Black History month, let’s work toward a more just future – including Black crime victims. Victims of crime deserve to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect throughout the criminal justice system and that is exactly what Marsy’s Law for Iowa would afford us.

 

Survivor Mission

They're on a mission and they won't stop until they're successful. 

 

You might remember Leigh and Audrey. These two have been with us from the very beginning. Their story is one that is so awful, it's almost unbelievable. And while it's certainly hard for them to talk about, they won't be silenced. In their minds, if they can prevent even one Iowan from going through what they did, it will have been worth it. 

 

So they're at it again, and this time they shared their story with WHO-TV in Des Moines. 

 

In Marshall County in 1979, Leigh and Audrey were kidnapped, held as prisoners for hours, raped and had their lives threatened. 

 

For these two, the nightmare of that day can only be matched by a day 38 years later when a family member happened to notice through a web search that the man convicted of these crimes, and sentenced to 100 years in prison, was scheduled to be released. Leigh and Audrey were never told, they were not prepared, and their lives were threatened once again. 

 

They fought on and they still continue to fight to this day. 

 

They know what it feels like when the justice system, which is supposed to protect victims, turns its back on them. "The perpetrators have always had all the rights," Leigh said. 

 

...Not if Leigh and Audrey have anything to say about it. 

 

Please take a moment and share this WHO - TV story on your social media account. Sharing Leigh and Audrey's brave voices will help us reach new survivors and encourage legislators to consider crime victims' rights. 

Pass Marsy's Law

 

Thanks to our survivor family member, Katie for her recent letter to the editor in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier. If you would like to get involved in our coalition, please contact Sydney at [email protected] 

 

LETTER: Crime victims deserve equal rights

Dear Editor,

My brother, Jeremy Allen, was shot and killed by Michael Coffman at the Ottumwa High School on July 25, 1994. At the time, Coffmann was 16, almost 17, with a criminal background of violence. He was tried as an adult because he had already been through the juvenile system and they could no longer help him.

 

My brother was 15-years-old, an athlete, with a lot of potential and was a good kid.

 

The jury found Michael guilty of murdering my brother and he was sentenced to life without parole. A few years ago, the Supreme Court ruled sentencing juveniles to life without parole was unfair and unjust. He was then resentenced to life with the possibility of parole and as of December of 2020, he is able to be out on work release.

 

What is unfair and unjust about the criminal justice system is that victims and their families have no voice. When I think about how our family has been treated during this process it is maddening, exhausting and defeating. Our voice as victims did not have any impact when it comes to this case.

 

I support Marsy’s Law for Iowa because victims and their families deserve equal constitutional rights as the accused.

 

Molina Bix, Ottumwa

 

 

Have a story to share? Want to write a letter to your local paper? Need help? Email Sydney ([email protected].us) for more information.

Marsy’s Law for Iowa Features “Highlight the Right” Campaign

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

 

DES MOINES, Iowa (Jan. 19, 2021) —For the past two months, Marsy’s Law for Iowa has engaged in a “Highlight the Right” campaign, which utilizes social media, informative videos and live discussions to outline the proposal for a crime victim rights amendment to the state constitution.

 

The goal of the Highlight the Right effort was to show Iowans that the current law on the books is not enough and gives victims a false sense of access to justice. Current law does not provide participatory rights for the victim prior to conviction, safety and privacy during the criminal justice process or standing to enforce their rights, leaving them no recourse if their rights are violated.

 

“For years, Iowans who become victims of crime have been suffering. They feel their rights are less than their perpetrators and there is no recourse for them,” said Eric Baker, Marsy’s Law for Iowa State Director. “Our coalition of victim voices, law enforcement and county attorneys wanted to provide real-world experience and information directly to Iowans, showcasing just how impactful a victim rights amendment would be for Iowans.” 

 

Iowa is in the minority of states that does not give constitutional rights for crime victims.

 

The campaign began on Nov. 9, and outlined a new right each week, diving into the details of their 2021 proposal – 13 rights in all. 

 

The featured rights include:

Present

Heard

Informed

Confer with government attorney

Privacy

Notice of proceedings

Notice of release

Restitution

Dignity, respect & fairness

Free from intimidation

Reasonable protection

Safety of the victim

Timely disposition of the case

 

To see a full explanation of the right and why it is needed in Iowa, please visit the Marsy’s Law for Iowa website.

 

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Wholeheartedly Support

I have been in law enforcement for 30 years, and I have seen firsthand how the victims of violent crimes have so much trauma from the incident, that they need to have rights equal to the offender. For this reason, and many others, I support Marsy’s Law for Iowa and encourage the Iowa Legislature to move forward on this issue.

 

Marsy’s Law for Iowa would provide constitutional protections for crime victims in our state – things like the right to be notified of the status of the offender, the right to restitution, the right to be involved in court proceedings, among other things. Marsys’ Law would elevate these rights and also ensure they could never be stripped down or changed depending on who is in charge at the state capitol.

 

We must make sure that should an innocent person become the victim of a crime they know that they will be treated with dignity, respect and fairness when they are thrown into the criminal justice system, processing the most traumatic incident of their life.

 

I wholeheartedly support Marsy’s Law.  

Highlight the Right: Timely Disposition

The right to timely disposition of the case and proceedings free from unreasonable delay

 

“Justice delayed, is justice denied” – a legal maxim older than our nation and the defining principle behind a defendant’s 6th Amendment right to a speedy trial.[i] The interests of swift justice, though, are not solely limited to the defendant. As the Supreme Court has noted, the public has some interest in proceedings that continue without untimely delay[ii] and for the victim long, drawn-out delays in the criminal justice process can cause serious mental health and financial ramifications.[iii] Marsy’s Law for Iowa includes the right to timely disposition of the case and proceedings free from unreasonable delay which will provide the victim with a meaningful right to object to unreasonable delays and trial continuances.

 

Protecting and Serving

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down operations for many organizations around the state, the Marsy’s Law for Iowa law enforcement coalition has been expanding.  

 

Over the spring, summer and fall, our law enforcement coalition has added even more key, influential voices who are speaking up for victims and stand ready to help move legislation forward during the 2021 session.

This year, we have grown our coalition by 70 percent. These law enforcement experts represent more than 70 counties across the state – from smaller, rural cities to populated counties, and everywhere in between.  

 

When recounting their horrible experiences with the criminal justice system, nearly all of the victim survivors who have lent their voices to our efforts specifically point to the law enforcement involved in their case as the shining glimmer of hope.

 

Iowa survivor, Vicki credits one, single member of law enforcement for "keeping my family alive." She says this person was the only one in the entire criminal justice system who gave her the dignity, fairness and respect that she deserved. He helped to empower her, point her in the right direction and give her the confidence and power to assert herself in the system and say – the way I am being treated is WRONG.

 

And from talking to our law enforcement coalition, we know the number one reason they are signing on to our effort is because they work with Iowa crime victims every single day and they see firsthand just how poorly the criminal justice system is treating these victims without constitutional protections.

 

“We often get frustrated that the criminal has more rights than the victim, and that’s not right,” said Doug Timmons, Hamilton County Sheriff.

We stand arm-in-arm with law enforcement who is putting their lives on the line every day to protect Iowa crime victims and be their voice when they don’t have one. We will continue to build our coalition even more and show a unified front in the fight for victims’ rights.

 

Leah DeClerck

Law Enforcement Coordinator

Marsy's Law for Iowa

Highlight the Right: Safety

The right to be free from intimidation, harassment and abuse

The right to reasonable protection from the accused or convicted

The right to have the safety of the victim and the victim’s family considered in setting conditions of release or transfer

 

Protecting ourselves and our family after a violent and traumatizing experience is at the core of our humanity. But when victims of crime are thrust into a confusing, sometimes threatening and arduous criminal justice system, the ability to secure meaningful protection for themselves and their families is lacking in our Iowa laws. Iowa currently has no constitutional rights for victims of crime and the statutory rights that do exist[i] to protect a victim against further harm lack any true mechanism for enforcement. These inadequate protections act as false hope for victims turning to the government for support and protection as they seek justice for their trauma.

 

Capitol Chat with Rep. Marti Anderson

The 2021 Legislative Session is quickly approaching, and we want to continue highlighting the work we've been doing over the past several months to remind legislators that the current law on the books is not adequate for survivors of crimes.

 

We will be hosting a pre-session Zoom call on Wednesday, January 6th, at 6PM. We are so excited to welcome State Rep. Marti Anderson with us for this special call. Rep. Anderson has a long history of working for Iowa crime victims through a career as a social worker, her work at Polk County Victim Services, the Polk County Family Violence Center, and Prevent Child Abuse Iowa. She also served as the founding director of the Iowa Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division.

 

Rep. Anderson is eager to join us for this call and speak with you directly. She will be sharing information on what the legislative session will look like, discussing ways you can move this legislation forward and taking any questions you may have.

 

We really hope you can hop on this Zoom call and participate in this great opportunity! Please RSVP on our Facebook event. Contact Sydney at [email protected] or (712) 541-2718 to receive the call-in information.