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Grissel: What goes down on Market Street


By Hannah Grissel

According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Mackenzie Lee was arrested Wednesday night after a traffic stop on Market Street. Apparently officers smelled marijuana, which resulted in them searching the vehicle. Consequently, Lee, who passed the breath test, was charged with a third offense of drunken driving, carrying weapons while intoxicated, and possession of a controlled substance.

I assume the officers consider this a successful arrest, though I witnessed and recorded the event that night and from my point of view, this routine traffic stop was unnerving and excessively hostile.

At around 11pm I was sitting in a booth in the Fox Head on a relatively quiet night for the bar. As I was speaking with a friend, we saw red and blue lights flashing outside the window to the right of us. A University of Iowa police officer had just pulled over a man in a black sedan that had turned the wrong way down Market Street. As two officers exited the patrol car, almost everyone in the bar moved closer to the windows to watch the event unfold.

One officer walked to the passenger side, shining a flashlight in the vehicle while the soon-to-be-arresting officer spoke to the driver. From inside the bar, we didn’t see any handing over of license and registration or any movement from Lee. Then, after no more than one minute the same officer pulled his gun on Lee, an average size white man, with face and neck tattoos. Upon realizing what was unfolding, a friend of mine turned away from the window saying he couldn’t watch. ln awe, another friend and I hurried outside of the bar and began filming the incident from across the street.

I watched as Lee kept his hands on the steering wheel as the arresting officer commanded him not to reach and asked him what he was holding on his person and in the vehicle. He admitted to having a pocket knife on his person right then. Shortly after this and with no further questions, the second officer began searching the vehicle from the passenger side.

Throughout the entirety of the event, Lee gazed up at the officer with wide eyes while cooperating with him fully, from what I could see from across the street. While observing this, my friend and I were reckoning with the idea that we might be witness to a police shooting. She even shouted to the officer that we were filming in hopes of reminding him of what he was doing. In total the officer stood pointing his pistol less than 2 feet from Lee’s chest for nearly five minutes before arresting him.

Nonetheless, as we re-entered the bar after the arrest there were only solemn mutterings about what had just happened. We patrons solemnly acknowledged to one another how messed up that was, but of course no one was actually shocked.

What I find disturbing is first, how rapidly the officer resorted to waving an object of lethal force in the face of Lee during a traffic stop. Second, the fact they searched his vehicle without consent. And finally, how normal this seemed to all the patrons in that establishment, including myself.

As we well know, people of color, specifically Native and black Americans are at a much higher risk of facing police brutality. Which leads me wonder if Lee, who I have no doubt faced this excessive use of intimidation because of his ink, didn’t face brutality because the color of his skin.

We’ll never know. What I do know is this display by the UI police was unconscionable. In my opinion, person should be held at gunpoint by a police officer unless they actually threaten the life of them. Intimidation is not an adequate alternative to responsible policing.

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