by Jason Frerichs
Local activist Jesica Butler alerted PVI to some very disturbing events taking place at the Sioux County Youth Fair. The Iowa National Guard has a booth where those 14 and older can practice shooting. The problem here is that they are shooting at targets that depict what people might stereotypically think is an Arab.
This is disturbing, to say the least. With hate crimes against Arabs on the rise, I fail to see why the National Guard thinks it’s acceptable to basically push state sponsored bigotry. This is little more than indoctrination of children. If adults wish to take part in actions of bigotry, it’s deplorable but it is their right. It’s quite another thing to bring children into the equation. Is this Iowa Nice? Is this how we want our state to be represented?
According to Jesica Butler, this isn’t the first time this has happened. She told PVI that it’s a yearly occurrence. She asked the woman and sergeant hosting it why they chose those people as targets and they said it’s what they use for practice. She asked them, “Don’t you think that it’s insensitive and can be hurtful to people?” Sergeant Derek Allen said, “No, it’s just for practice.” It’s very disturbing that sergeant in the Iowa National Guard doesn’t see a problem using these types of images for target practice.
I purposefully put off writing this article because I knew folks were reaching out to Sergeant Allen so I wanted to know what his response would be. An activist in the 4th District named Steve Mahr took the time to call Sergeant Allen and have a respectful conversation.
He posted the following on his personal Facebook page, “SGT Allen expressed his apologies, said he had a major lapse in judgment and understood after hearing concerns why the targets were offensive. I understand. I am not angry with SGT Allen and I truly believe he did not mean to be hurtful or offensive. There have been times in my life, because of my position of power or privilege, where I was unaware of how offensive or hurtful I was being. Grace is a wonderful thing. It is clear to me that SGT Allen is interested in righting the wrong and more than willing to have a civil conversation with anyone willing to talk.”
He also posted, “Honestly, I’m really impressed by SGT Allen. It is a shitty thing to have the one representation of an entire religion to be two enemy combatants at a county fair, really really shitty. And SGT Allen, a guy who lives in a totally different universe from me, was willing to be teachable, listen, and offer his perspective without being demeaning, defensive, or dismissive.”
I’m glad that Mr. Mahr took the opportunity to reach out and have a respectful dialogue with Sergeant Allen. I’m also impressed by the sergeant was able to see this from a different perspective. I think Mr. Mahr is an excellent example for all of us. We can’t let people like Steve King divide us and raise the level of hatred or we can follow Mr. Mahr’s example and reach out to those who disagree with us. I’m paraphrasing here but this reminds me of a statement that Black Lives Matter activist Alicia Garza made. She said that in order for a people’s movement to happen, we have to reach out to and work with those we might not always agree with.
Founder of the Iowa Democratic Party Progressive Caucus