Protesters lined the sidewalk across the street from Salt Lake City police headquarters Monday afternoon to express their outrage at a spate of recent police shootings of unarmed people.
Among the demonstrators were friends of Dillon Taylor, the 20-year-old man who was shot dead by Salt Lake City police outside a 7-Eleven last Monday. Police were responding to a report of a man with a gun, but Taylor’s supporters say he was unarmed.
"It didn’t make sense to me when I first heard everything, and they tried to say he had a gun," said Taylor’s friend Aaron Swanenberg, who came to the protest straight from Taylor’s funeral. "I knew Dillon. He never packed a gun."
At the time of Taylor’s shooting, court documents show he had a $25,000 bench warrant for a probation violation in connection with felony robbery and obstructing justice convictions. But Marissa Martinez, whose sister used to date Taylor, said Taylor had turned over a new leaf.
"He was trying to do better for himself. And this is what happens to him?" Martinez said. "It was really heartbreaking."
The South Salt Lake police department is investigating the shooting but has not said whether a weapon was found or why Taylor was deemed threatening enough for police to fire at least twice.
Police have said it may be several weeks before investigators release their findings to prosecutors. In the meantime, Taylor’s supporters are demanding answers.
"Why can’t we have these answers to put the family at peace?" Swanenberg asked.
"It’s been too long," echoed Martinez. "I want to know what they’re hiding. Why is it that they can’t tell us the truth?"
In addition to demanding justice for Taylor, protesters waved signs remembering others slain by police — including Danielle Willard, whose November 2012 shooting resulted in a manslaughter charge being filed in June against former West Valley Police Detective Shaun Cowley.
"They’re too trigger happy, the cops," said Susan Bowlden, a retired teacher from South Salt Lake who lives near the 7-Eleven where Taylor was shot. "I’ve always said I trust the police. I always told children to go to the police. I do not trust them anymore."
Such mistrust has been boosted by the high profile shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Missouri teenager who was gunned down by a police officer just two days before Taylor was killed in Salt Lake City. Brown’s death has sparked days of protests and fomented a public debate about the proper limits of police power.
"The bottom line problem is police have no accountability, and that gives them absolute power," said Scott Simons, whose daughter Kelly was fatally shot by police in January 2013. Kelly Simons — a suspect in a series of armed robberies — was killed by an officer when she tried to run him down with her pickup during an attempt to arrest her. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has ruled the shooting legally justified.
"Every time we hear that someone has been shot by police, it reopens old wounds," Simons said. "We miss our daughter. She was a big part of our life. It hurts every day."
Another protest demanding justice for Brown and Taylor will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. outside the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building at 125 S. State Street.
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