This was obviously the crux of the matter, because I didn't hear any Hispanic people telling the overflow crowd about problems they were having in Ames. Nor did I hear any Asian people nor any American Indians speaking out. No, the only people I heard detail complaints about the police and the schools were Ames black people.
But the problem today is more than that. It's also related to class. Many of the new-arriving black people are poor, not highly educated, refugees from the inner city.
Some of what we heard Tuesday was enough to break your heart, like stories from black people who said they had come to Ames to start a new life but doubted it would be possible now because of what they considered police harassment.
The hearing suggested the community upset could be traced to two main sources - the vicious crimes, including two murders, that occurred recently, and the difficulty the Ames schools are having in dealing with these new black students.
First to the crimes. Because black people have been implicated in several of these crimes, police apparently have been monitoring a number of these new arrivals closely. Police Chief Chuck Cychosz took some heavy criticism from several speakers, including one young black man who said he was so disillusioned by police, he wouldn't trust any Ames police officer to investigate his complaint of harassment.
The young man obviously wants his criticism to be addressed in another venue, which is something the mayor and City Council need to pay attention to if they expect to have much credibility with such people. Remember 2004. In the weary aftermath of yet another Veishea riot, then-Chief Loras Jaeger asked the Iowa Attorney General to make an independent review of charges of overreaction by police. The AG's conclusion? No prosecution of any police officer was warranted. Maybe we again need the help of another outside expert.
And then we get to the schools. Speaker after speaker told of their children coming home with reports they'd been called the "n" word by other students in the hallways of Ames schools. One mother said that even her 5-year-old daughter had faced it. But one rumor that wasn't discussed but has circulated throughout the community suggests that some of these newly arrived black students are more than difficult to deal with.
Defenders of these students respond that it's simply because they are different.
It reminded me of the year I spent teaching in a junior high school in New York City's Harlem, just down the street from the Apollo Theater. It was way back in 1968. I had been hired by the New York City Schools because they believed that because I had taught black students in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, I could do the same in their junior high school.
But I quickly realized this was different, that I'd be lucky to keep my head above water. I did notice, however, a tiny, old black teacher whose classroom was just down the hallway from me. She never had a problem. Students would come boiling out of my classroom and enter hers, quiet as church mice. I went to find out the reason.
She said she'd been teaching in that junior high school for something like 30-plus years, that she had taught many of her students' parents, their aunts and uncles, their older brothers and sisters, that she lived in Harlem among her students, that she saw them on the street, in the stores, in church. She also knew about me, that I was a stranger in Harlem, that she'd bet I wouldn't finish the year, that I didn't live in Harlem, that I didn't shop in the neighborhood, that I didn't walk Harlem streets, that I didn't attend a Harlem church.
She was an institution in that school, and every student knew it and behaved accordingly. I, on the other hand, was an outsider.
My first semester there was a trial by ordeal. But as the first semester was ending, those students saw - surprisingly, I think - that I was still there, and their behavior started to improve.
By the middle of the second semester, I have to confess, I even was beginning to enjoy the experience, and I think the students were too. But they also were betting I wouldn't come back because so many of their other teachers hadn't.
In the end, the students were right about me, because as soon as the school year ended, I was off to graduate school, never to return.
After listening to all the comments at Ames City Hall Tuesday, I'm certain only of this - race relations still are the most intractable problem this country faces. I just don't think Ames can give up.
Dick Haws taught journalism at Iowa State University for 21 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.