Race Relations in Waterloo

Chapter 2

Community Views

Cliff Coney, President, Black Hawk County Branch of NAACP

Cliff Coney told the Advisory Committee that the NAACP in Black Hawk County is concerned mainly with the redrawing of boundaries in the Waterloo school district and how it will affect minority students in terms of busing and attendance.[1] He said the NAACP is also concerned about—

the high number of minority prisoners in the Black Hawk County jail and within the state of Iowa; the continued lack of economic development on the east side of town; a new ordinance that is being proposed by the Waterloo police chief that would give them [police] authority to impose fines on people whom they [police] have reason to believe are hanging out for reason of suspected drug-related activity.[2]

Mr. Coney does not see any real growth in economic development or investment of capital on East Fourth Street in Waterloo. In the late ’60s, after rioting and burning, businesses in the area relocated and left the Eastside a ghost town in terms of minority business enterprises. The city of Waterloo promised to help the area establish businesses, but little has been done over the years. The lack of business and employment opportunities in Waterloo discourages young high school or college graduates from remaining in the city. The popular choice is to move to a bigger city where minorities have more career opportunities.[3]

In commenting on how to improve race relations in Waterloo, Mr. Coney said there is a need to address the lack of opportunities within the state for young people. He said:

As far as opportunities for minorities here, that’s always historically been a big problem. There’s a large number of minorities that do not want to stay within the state because they just can’t find opportunities in employment. They can’t find opportunities in education. They can’t find a lot of opportunities that they need to stay here. . . . We need to do a better job of getting the powers-that-be to understand that they have to come up with solutions to that problem. Otherwise it will continue to happen, and young people will continue to leave at more alarming numbers.[4]

Terry Stevens, Educational Consultant

Terry Stevens, an educational consultant and a long-time resident of Waterloo, told the Advisory Committee that in her opinion, a sophisticated form of racism and discrimination is alive and well in Waterloo and race relations are not good.[5] As evidence, she noted that people of color lag behind in educational attainment, face high unemployment, and that minority youths are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated in the city. Ms. Stevens said the media, both print and broadcast, have depicted African American youths in an uncomplimentary light and downplayed or ignored their positive accomplishments. She pointed to an Orlando Sentinel series on juvenile crime reprinted by the Waterloo Courier, which used several photos of black youths.[6]

Ms. Stevens described an education system that is unresponsive to cultural differences of African American children while at the same time makes special provisions for other children. The minority students that do not drop out face a hostile learning environment because some teachers have an “I don’t care” attitude.[7] Ms. Stevens has no confidence in the Waterloo school district, which receives federal funding year after year for special programs to help students who are behind in educational achievement.[8]

With respect to black youth in the criminal justice system, Ms. Stevens said:

Our young people are being turned into manufactured criminals because as a community of parents, educators, employers, and other support systems, we have failed to address the needs of too many of our African American children. There are some who make it out. There are few who get out, but overall the masses of our children are being ignored. African American youth are far more likely to be arrested and detained than are Caucasian youth. They’re also more likely to be rearrested, readmitted to secure facilities, and have longer stays in confinement than do the Caucasian youth. These repeat offenders keep law enforcement officials, juvenile officers, judges, social workers, and prison contractors gainfully employed.

But vast numbers of our youth are not rehabilitated and go on in the future to become adult criminals. So now you can couple a criminal record with a lack of education, poverty, oppression, and racial discrimination, and you can almost ensure that these individuals will not enjoy the benefits of gainful employment in this community and therefore will probably spend much of their life as either a parolee or an inmate in Waterloo.[9]

Ms. Stevens concluded her remarks to the Advisory Committee by noting:

Clearly until we address the underlying racial disparity between African Americans and Caucasian youth in the areas of education, employment, and social development, we will continue to see escalating numbers of our children caught up in the criminal justice system for years to come. Solutions lie with parents, educators, employers, and community organizations coming together to more equitably distribute the knowledge, the wealth, and the development in the Waterloo community. Waterloo has been in a state of monitoring for decades. Ever since I was a child everybody has been monitoring Waterloo in terms of employment, in terms of housing, in terms of education. What we need here is enforcement of civil rights. What we need are sanctions for violations of laws that protect people of color. Otherwise the status quo will remain.[10]

Sister Kathleen Grace, Catholic Diocese of Waterloo

Sister Kathleen Grace, a community advocate for the Catholic Diocese of Waterloo, said that she was hired because of the increase in Hispanics moving to Waterloo to work in the local meatpacking plant. She noted that one of the main concerns in Waterloo is the practice of some police officers asking Hispanics for identification papers when it is apparent that they have not violated a law but merely met a profile of persons lacking proper identification papers.[11]

Sister Kathleen also discussed the local school system. While the school administration is accepting of all students, including new immigrants, educational equity is a concern, she said. Limited-English-proficient students are placed in English as a Second Language classes and after a semester, they are tested. If they pass the English language test, they are placed in regular classes at West High to “swim or sink.”[12] She said some students, because of their educational background, are not prepared for ninth-grade math or other subject matter at that level.[13]

[1] Cliff Coney, statement before the Iowa Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, community forum, Waterloo, IA, Dec. 20–21, 1999, transcript, p. 76 (hereafter cited as Transcript).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p. 85.

[4] Ibid., p. 86.

[5] Terry Stevens, Transcript, pp. 95–96.

[6] Ibid., p. 96.

[7] Ibid., pp. 97–98.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., pp. 100–01.

[10] Ibid., pp. 101–02.

[11] Sister Kathleen Grace, Transcript, p. 128.

[12] Ibid., p. 130.

[13] Ibid., p. 132.