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Des Moines council, civil rights commission meeting called off after being 'Zoom-bombed' with slurs

Des Moines Register logo Des Moines Register 5/15/2020 Austin Cannon, Des Moines Register
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A joint meeting of the Des Moines City Council and the city's Civil and Human Rights Commission was shut down Thursday after someone infiltrated the online gathering and uttered racial and sexual slurs. 

As the meeting opened, Joshua Barr, Des Moines's civil and human rights director, told the council that someone had "Zoom-bombed" him and members of the commission as they were preparing for the meeting to start. He said the person used several slurs, including the n-word, and named two members of the commission specifically. 

“There were some racial slurs and things that were posted. I’ll just be candid with it. If that does happen again, we will have to end the meeting for the protection of the public,” Barr told people who were watching the meeting online.

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Moments later, as Mayor Frank Cownie made opening remarks, a Zoom-bomber appeared and made repugnant comments. The meeting then concluded. 

"What occurred proves hate and ignorance is alive and well. But I stand steadfast in my resolve to continue to be an agent of change," said Kameron Middlebrooks, the commission chair, in a statement, "Our commission has started the path to bridging the gap we face in our community and will continue to work cooperatively with council and Des Moines residents to ensure we drive this hate into the darkness and uplift neighbors with love and equitable policies."

a screenshot of a computer screen: Zoom, a popular app used to conduct meetings virtually, is now being used by several Waukesha County communities, including the cities of Waukesha and New Berlin, to conduct government meetings during the new coronavirus pandemic. Mukwonago also began using Zoom software for village meetings on April 1. © Jim Riccioli/Now News Group Zoom, a popular app used to conduct meetings virtually, is now being used by several Waukesha County communities, including the cities of Waukesha and New Berlin, to conduct government meetings during the new coronavirus pandemic. Mukwonago also began using Zoom software for village meetings on April 1.

Cownie called the actions a "disgusting and sickening display of racial intolerance" that would only strengthen the city's resolve.  

Zoom issues: People hijacking streams, possible security flaws

The City Council has used Zoom, an online conferencing software, to conduct its meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoom has become a popular substitute for in-person meetings across the country, but its meetings are vulnerable to being hacked.  

Council and commission members were set to discuss the progress of the city's Bridging the Gap initiative to make Des Moines more equitable. In February 2019, the commission recommended the council take four steps that included establishing a lawful source of income ordinance, funding a grant program for businesses, focusing positive interactions between police and residents, and mandating equity training for city staff. 

The council and commission were initially supposed to meet on Bridging the Gap in March, but the session was postponed because of the pandemic.  

Austin Cannon covers the city of Des Moines for the Register. Reach him at awcannon@registermedia.com or 515-284-8398. Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Des Moines council, civil rights commission meeting called off after being 'Zoom-bombed' with slurs

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