After demonstrations in downtown Salt Lake City, a determined cause still smolders

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A worker washes a sculpture at the Public Safety Building as cleanup takes place the day after a rally against police brutality turned violent in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 30, 2020.

A bronze sculpture of two open hands that sits outside Salt Lake City’s Public Safety Building is meant to symbolize the duty emergency responders have to protect and serve their communities.

But during a Salt Lake City demonstration denouncing racism and deadly force by law enforcement Saturday night, protesters transformed the piece, staining it with streaks of bright red paint that pooled like blood.

Those hands still appeared to drip early Sunday afternoon, serving as an evocative reminder of the deaths that sparked a violent protest here and in cities across the country. The latest: George Floyd, a black man who was killed after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Nearby, shards of glass sprinkled the ground next to eggshells left under the windows protesters had thrown them against. The graffiti remained, too.

“Enough is enough!” read one of the messages spray-painted high on the glass of the Public Safety Building. “F--- the police,” read another.

At historic City Hall, facilities workers swept up glass and boarded up busted windows. Glass littered the front of the city’s Justice Court while boarded-up windows appeared at City Creek Center. Farther north, crews were busy power-spraying off brightly colored graffiti left at the Utah Capitol.

The tranquility of the curfew-emptied, coronavirus-thinned city streets — as crews worked to assess and clean up the damage — presented a strong contrast to the unrest that had erupted the previous day.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Greg Hualde cleans graffiti off the Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 31, 2020.

Most residents in the downtown area appeared to comply with Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s curfew order, requiring people to stay off city streets and public places in most instances. Exceptions were in place for police and fire personnel, the news media, people traveling to work and those caring for a family member or friend. People were also allowed out to get food or medical care, to get to the airport, to flee dangerous circumstances or if they are homeless.

The mayor said Sunday that no one on her staff could remember the last time Salt Lake City was under such a curfew. Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, who guided the city during historic flooding in the 1980s, could not recall such a clampdown either.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had called in up to 200 members of the National Guard to enforce the law in the capital. A strong police presence remained Sunday, with officers from all over the state stationed at Salt Lake City’s Washington Square while Utah Highway Patrol officers enforced the curfew at the Capitol.

A few people walked their dogs or rode their bikes around town, but it was eerily quiet downtown — even for a Sunday in Utah, where many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the state’s predominant faith, refrain from shopping and other activities.

“I’ve never seen so few people out,” McKenzie Rink, a student at the University of Utah, said as she and a group of friends walked around outside City Hall. They were unaware, she said, that the curfew extended through Monday at 6 a.m. but said no police had stopped them to enforce it as they walked.

Alan Manzo, also a U. student, told Uintah County officers that he didn’t know about the curfew when they approached him as he rode his bike through Library Square.

He told The Salt Lake Tribune afterward that he’d heard about the protests and supported the cause behind them. But he felt the rally had “gone south” once property damage began.

“Something is necessary," he said, “although I don’t agree with the riots.”

Two Salt Lake City residents who attended the protest Saturday night returned to the Washington Square area Sunday to clean up garbage left behind during the demonstration. They were similarly split on the tactics some protesters had deployed to draw attention to their cause.

“A lot of people are scared because it got kind of violent and the car fires and everything. That’s not quite right to do, obviously, but I think the thing we should be more upset about is the murder and the cops not coming to justice,” said one of the women, who would identify herself only as Laurel C.

“There’s a priority list of things to be upset about,” agreed her friend, who gave her name as Phoenix M. “A lot of people are upset about how many people gathered and how crazy it got, but we were peacefully protesting for years before this.”

Much of the protest Saturday was nonviolent, Phoenix noted.

As volunteer crews and officials cleaned the last of the graffiti at the Capitol complex Sunday afternoon, a small group staged another demonstration decrying police violence.

Dillon LeBlanc, who said he wasn’t able to attend the protest Saturday, came to the Capitol with his dog, Punkin, and a sign that proclaimed the importance of black lives but decried looting and violence.

“Let’s do this right,” it read in black marker.

LeBlanc said he was compelled to come out Sunday because he’s aware of too many instances of police violence toward black people “and I’m kind of sick of seeing it.”

“I just want it to change," he said, “but not violently.”

Shortly afterward, Utah Highway Patrol officers ushered the protesters off the sidewalk, citing the curfew. Undeterred, they took up their silent vigil on the other side of the street, serving as a reminder that the graffiti from Saturday night may be gone, but their cause remains.