Demonstrators decrying systemic racism filled the square in front of Salt Lake City’s police headquarters with passionate and largely peaceful demands for change Monday — as nearby law enforcement barricades and armored vehicles served as vivid reminders of last weekend’s violence.
The protesters who gathered by the hundreds held up their arms outside the public safety center, chanting, “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” They reasoned with officers decked in riot gear and even persuaded several Salt Lake City police officers to “kneel with us.”
“We believe that our message was heard loud and clear that we are done tolerating injustice,” Daud Mumin, one of the rally speakers, said. “We’ve been crying for this for centuries. We’re done. It’s not about negotiation. It’s about taking action."
Organizers of Monday’s gathering urged participants to remain peaceful and to disperse at 8 p.m. after police warned them they could face arrest for violating the city’s new weeklong curfew. At the same time, they argued that anger and even disruption is a natural outcome when a society ignores persistent cries for justice.
During a speech before the march, Mumin quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who once called a riot the voice of the unheard “and we are unheard."
Though the demonstration was mostly peaceful, officials reported that the window of an armored vehicle had been shattered. There were some arrests, including one of a protester who’d been carrying a loaded handgun.
Later in the evening, a line of police forced protesters away from the public safety building, with a few rubber bullets fired to disperse the crowd. Still, hundreds of participants marched through the city well after the curfew went into effect and they promised to return tomorrow for another protest, whether they will face the same 8 p.m. curfew. in the area in violation of the new curfew.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Monday ordered the curfew, running from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day, just an hour before the protesters gathered at City Hall.
In a statement, Mendenhall said the decision to extend the nightly curfews to June 8 “was not made lightly. But as we’ve seen throughout the country, the valid frustration many people feel continues to exhibit itself beyond the bounds of peaceful discourse.”
The mayor added: “While Salt Lake City respects and understands the anger people legitimately feel, and welcomes the presence of peaceful protests, the safety of our city, our public safety officers, and our residents must come first.”
People are generally required to stay off of public streets and sidewalks, and out of parks and public spaces.
Exceptions are made for law enforcement, medical personnel and members of the media. Also, people can go to and from work, attend religious services, get food, go to the airport, or visit a local business. People can still care for a family member, friend or animal; and get medical care. And people won’t be arrested if they are fleeing dangerous circumstances, or if they are homeless.
Mendenhall consulted with Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown before ordering the new curfew.
Herbert issued his own order Monday declaring a state of emergency. The order closes the state Capitol to the public effective immediately and lasting until the end of the day on Saturday. He said official business will still take place at the Capitol. The National Guard had a heavy presence at the Capitol late Monday and arrested a few protesters who refused to leave.
Monday’s protests were nothing near as large and as raucous as those taking place Saturday, which sparked the first citywide curfew that extended from that night until Monday at 6 a.m. The protests were prompted by the death last week of George Floyd, an African American man, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who has since been charged with murder.
That’s where protesters overturned a police car and another car — driven by a man who was seen on video pointing a bow and arrow at protesters — and burned them. Herbert activated 200 members of the Utah National Guard who are still patrolling the streets.
Police announced Sunday they had arrested 46 people Saturday night, most of them cited for failing to disperse.
Deja Gaston, one of the organizers for Monday’s rally and a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said the scourge of police brutality has also touched Utah and read the names of people killed during interactions with law enforcement in the Salt Lake Valley.
“This is disgusting, this is not OK. It’s hard when you’re trying to walk down the street and you see a f---ing cop walking by, and you don’t know what’s going to happen to you,” she said.
“We want to defund the police,” she said, adding that buying more body cameras and sending police into neighborhoods will not solve the problem.
Marvin Oliveros, whose brother Cody Belgard was killed in a police shooting in 2018, also spoke Monday evening, saying local officials “turn their backs on us.”
However, in an interview, Salt Lake City police Officer Metui Tautua’a, one of the officers who knelt Monday evening, said he sympathizes with protesters.
“I’m just as upset as them,” he said. “What happened is not right, and it does need to stop.”
In one interaction, a protester singled out a police officer, saying he “proactively speaks out against police brutality,” and members of the crowd applauded.
The protests seen in Salt Lake City are similar to those in major cities throughout the country. President Donald Trump, in a conference call with governor Monday, said “most of you are weak. … You have to dominate.” Trump demanded governors get tough on burning and stealing — including widespread deployment of the National Guard. According to Military Times, Guard members have been deployed in 15 states and the District of Columbia in response to protests that turned violent.
Herbert, in a statement Monday, noted that his call to deploy the Utah National Guard was made after consulting with state leaders and with Mendenhall, but “without direction from Washington, D.C.”
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ response to civil unrest,” Herbert said. “Each state and each locality present their own challenges.”
Herbert called the National Guard “an important secondary part of the state’s strategy to maintain law and order while facilitating citizen rights of peaceable assembly.”
Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill joined 39 other elected prosecutors nationwide in a statement condemning Floyd’s death — and urging changes to put an end to “racially biased policing and police use of excessive force.”
Gill, in a statement sent to media Monday, cited “a long-standing history and practice in this country of the state perpetrating violent abuse against, and painful neglect for, communities and people of color. Only by working actively to rid our society and systems of structural racism will we be able to meaningfully start down the path of justice for our most alienated brothers and sisters.”
The prosecutors’ statement lists 19 proposed policy changes, including: Creating national databases to track documented cases of police misconduct and records of dangerous officers; repealing laws that shield police records from the public; revisit practices that allow police departments to become militarized; and having candidates running for prosecutor offices refuse donations or endorsements from police departments or police unions.
The head of Utah’s Fraternal Order of Police slammed Mendenhall’s call Saturday for residents to report incidents of unfair treatment of police.
In a statement written Sunday, FOP President Brent Jex said Mendenhall “used her energy to go fishing for complaints about officers. … Maybe if Mayor Mendenhall had actually stood on the street with officers, many of whom are not her employees but showed up to collect stitches instead of paychecks on her behalf, she would be more concerned with the human costs than the political ones.”
Mendenhall responded, in a statement Monday, that the Salt Lake City police “did an amazing job of keeping the peace alongside dozens of other agencies,” including the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah National Guard.
“I have seen these officers serve our community without hesitation, without complaint,” Mendenhall said. “I’ve heard the insults hurled at them and seen the violence directed at them while they strive to serve and protect.”
Mendenhall said the call for transparency “is the best way to support our officers. … The assertion that transparency and accountability is counter to supporting police is a false choice and really at the root of why our nation has erupted in protest.”
“If any police officer took my words for criticism against their actions on Saturday night, then I am sincerely sorry,” the mayor added, saying the goal “was to make sure the public knows that Salt Lake City police are here to protect and serve, and our department is willing to hear from the public in a spirit of transparency.”
In a Monday night Facebook post, the state FOP thanked Mendenhall for being willing to “rethink her public comments” about police. The post indicated that Mendenhall had begun calling injured police officers and had written to chiefs across the valley “thanking them for their willingness to immediately send their officers into harm’s way when asked to do so.”