THE PILOT EDITORIAL - Don't close the statehouse doors

Thursday, December 13, 2001

We fail to see how terrorist incidents in New York City and Washington, D.C., have much to do with the Rotunda up on the hill in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.

One of the great things about Iowa government has been its accessibility. Any Iowan, at nearly any time, has had the same access to its golden dome as have governors, senators and

representatives. The poor and powerless have had the same chance to peek in on the process of government as have the richest power-brokers.

The decision this week to drastically tighten security at the Statehouse has gone too far, and sacrificed too much.

Most of the entrances at the grand old building will be closed off permanently. Only three of the 22 doors will be accessible, all basement entries. Metal detectors and X-ray machines will be installed at the remaining three to screen taxpayers for Uzis and check inside schoolkids' backpacks for pipe bombs, we suppose.

For the first time, the public will be denied access to their building outside of business hours. When guards aren't in place, only proper state workers with the correct electronic access swipe cards can get into the building. Sophisticated video systems will sweep the grounds for evil-doers. James Bond would be proud.

"We're still visitor friendly," said Sen. John Jensen of Plainfield. Make note of that while pulling on all those locked doors. We'd follow the lobbyists with the wallets well-padded with campaign donations - bet they will find a way in.

The heightened security could also cost $700,000 or more, officials say. No problem, the council wrote a blank check to spend as much of your money as it takes to put security at primo top alert.

Of the members of the Legislative Council which made the decision, only Rep. Betty Grundberg of Des Moines protested. She said that the measures won't really do much to protect statehouse workers from terrorism, and that it destroys the character of the most visible building in the state.

We suppose all forms of government must have a plan for safety, but when in the world did the Iowa Statehouse get to be such a security code red? Is the Taliban targeting school funding formula debates these days?

It will be comforting to know that our leaders are safe and sound. But we wonder who they are really being shielded from.

The color of justice

There has been plenty of talk about racial profiling in law enforcement lately. In the vast majority of cases, police have been among the best at basing action on knowledge and not skin color.

Storm Lake police vehicles feature a bumper sticker that reads "Eracism," and it is considered more than a slogan in this diverse community.

But still, there are incidents in this state that make you wonder.

This week, the Coralville police department is being sued by a couple who were arrested solely because of their skin color, they say.

Seli Fakorski and Victor Cornejo were shopping at a department store for a formal gown she would wear to a fund-raiser event. She wrote a check to pay for a lovely dress. It was then that police approached, put them in handcuffs reportedly in front of store workers and other customers, and forced them into separate squad cars for interrogation. Only after talking to the woman's mother to confirm her identity did the officers remove the cuffs and let them out of the cars, the suit said.

The suit claims that an officer told the woman that they were arrested because "there are a group of African Americans who stole checks and were writing the checks across Iowa."

If that is true, the two were interrogated only because of the color of their skin, black and hispanic.

They are suing police, the store and the city.

But it isn't compensatory damages that is really at issue, but how to eke out justice in a police system that so depends on physical description, and yet is now expected to be color blind.

Can there be way to allow police to do their duty without being socially hamstrung, while still protecting innocent people from humiliation? Let's hear your ideas.