Daud Mumin, an 18-year-old Westminster College student, stood in front of a burgeoning crowd of about a thousand protesters on Washington Square on Thursday night and called out Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall for “being cowards.”
“Every single day we’ve been out here in these streets for the past almost week and we’ve been chanting, screaming for change. The time for conversation simply has passed,” Mumin said. “We’re not here for lip service. We’re here for action. Because we’ve been hearing a lot of talking, signing petitions and signing a lot of legislative things saying I will take action. Take action!”
Mumin’s reprimand was issued in front of a mostly kneeling crowd about two hours before about 2,000 protesters rose up and began to march down State Street, creating a line that filled the entire width of the street and stretched for about three blocks.
It also came less than an hour after Herbert issued a joint statement issued alongside the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission and the Multicultural Commission denouncing the death of George Floyd as “brutal and inhumane.”
Floyd, a black man, was killed in Minnesota by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. His May 25 death sparked rioting and looting in that state and has led to protests against racism and police brutality across the country.
Herbert called the two commissions in for an emergency meeting Wednesday and at one point was brought to tears.
The ensuing joint statement called for taking an active role in eradicating racism. Herbert vowed to meet with the groups again within 30 days with policy proposals.
“We are here to make the necessary call for us all to work together, to help one another, to listen intentionally to those who feel unheard, to be braver and better, to create the solution for such a time as this, and commit to eradicate racism from our thoughts, words, deeds and actions,” the joint statement said.
It also gave some support to the protests happening across the country.
“We know that America’s ‘sin’ of racism is still too prevalent,” the joint statement said. “People from marginalized communities who suffer everyday indignities and who now march to protest the deeply rooted historical and systemic oppression are looking to each of us to say in words and actions, ‘no more.’”
Ahead of Thursday’s protests at the Capitol, the American Civil Liberties Union and the local Black Lives Matter chapter called for no more curfews. The groups released a statement condemning mayor Mendenhall for issuing a curfew that was scheduled to last for more than a week, including all of last Sunday. Mendenhall lifted that curfew Wednesday.
The groups said the curfew quashed people’s rights to protest, hindered the change that activists sought and scared people. They equated it to a suppression of free speech.
The statement specifically said black, brown, immigrant and refugee SLC residents feared retribution if they left their homes amid the curfew, even for approved reasons. It added the curfew was achieved using “police-state tactics such as emergency alerts and low-flying helicopters.” Police helicopters also circled Thursday’s protest.
The statement contrasted how SLC’s minority populations felt with how the “[r]esidents of the predominantly white or otherwise insulated neighborhoods of Salt Lake City felt free to violate the curfew order without risk of arrest and freely enjoyed the very public spaces that the curfew forbade."
As remedies, the groups suggested actions for Mendenhall and city administrators to take. They include: recognizing the Salt Lake City Police Department has a problem of racism, attending sensitivity training, focusing on police de-escalation, dropping all charges against protesters, overhauling the Police Civilian Review board, expanding voting access on Election Day, ceasing to criminalize the homeless community, removing and firing all officers who are accused of excessive force, banning using rubber bullets on protesters and issuing an apology.
Mendenhall did take some action Thursday. She joined Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and their staffs in rushing out in front of City Hall and taking a knee as swarms of protesters marched by. And though she did not issue an apology, she did sent out a press release with updates on encounters between police and demonstrators from Saturday’s protest. An officer who knocked down a man with a cane while clearing a street has been removed from patrol duties, and an account of the event has been sent to the Civilian Review Board. The release also noted that Brandon E. McCormick, who aimed a bow and arrow at demonstrators, has been booked on charges of three felonies and a misdemeanor.
Speakers at Thursday’s protest emphasized they want to hear fewer words — perhaps aside from an apology — and witness more positive actions from government leaders.
The protest is the fourth in four days in Salt Lake City. It is the fifth since Saturday, when demonstrators flipped a police car and McCormick’s vehicle and set them on fire.
The Capitol was defaced by graffiti during Saturday’s protests as well, and as a result, Herbert on Monday closed the Capitol complex. That closure, which extends until Sunday morning, pushed Thursday’s crowd across the street to Salt Lake City Council Hall, where they eventually spilled onto State Street. Police were present while National Guard troops and vehicles were posted around the rest of Washington Square, including in front of the Capitol.
Addressing Thursday’s crowd, a speaker named Jenny, who declined to give her last name, noted the city had a cleanup plan for the graffiti installed before the protests ended Saturday.
“They already had a crew in place. In a matter of hours this building would be cleaned up. But how long is it going to take for the system to be cleaned up?" she asked. "What measures have been put in place to clean up the corruption?”
Muna Omar, an activist who started Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Utah, also questioned the quick response of the government to quell the protests but its slow response to COVID-19. The coronavirus has affected minority communities in greater numbers than white communities.
“This moment is different though, because for once we’re ready to take this step together. I think we’re finally seeing that they do not have our backs and they do not give a [expletive] about black lives, so we have to fight for them every single day,” Omar said.
“I just think that the way that they mishandled COVID-19, how they neglected us, there was zero support, zero leadership, 100,000 people died, 40 million are unemployed and that speaks volumes about where their priorities are,” she added. "How is it we were only given $1,200 but corporations received a mass bailout and the police budget exceeds $100 billion every year?”
In addition to the rallies in Salt Lake City, a protest in St. George on Thursday drew an estimated 300 people.
Officers arrested 46 people, and 21 officers were treated for injuries, mostly heat-related, in Saturday’s protest. An additional 18 protesters were arrested in Monday’s protest, and one person was arrested by Utah Highway Patrol troopers for violating Salt Lake City’s 8 p.m. curfew during Tuesday’s demonstrations.
On Wednesday, after curfew was lifted, protesters stayed out until 10 p.m., and Salt Lake City police reported zero arrests.
Since Saturday, Salt Lake City’s protests have been almost entirely peaceful. Speakers at events have called for nonviolence and said those who damage property or are disrespectful should leave.
Diane Bahati even began Wednesday’s demonstration at City Hall by leading a chant of “peaceful protest.”
Thursday’s protest also seemed largely peaceful. Some protesters yelled “Why are you in riot gear? I don’t see no riot here!” at law enforcement officers at the southeast corner of Washington Square Park. Chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “Black Lives Matter!” also filled downtown during the march. After walking for several blocks, protesters stopped about a block from the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building. Organizers then called for all protesters to lie on the ground in the street as Floyd had and remember him with eight minutes of silence. The group filled an entire city block.
Protesters were still gathered at the Capitol after 11 p.m.
Auburn Thayer, a native Utahn who identifies as they/them and spoke to the crowd early in the night, said they were surprised to see so many protesters in predominantly white Salt Lake City.
“As a Utah native, no one would ever expect to see this turnout,” Thayer said. “No one would expect white people to care enough to come into brown spaces, without someone there to escort them, and say, ‘I care.’”