They stood and cheered as the rain soaked their protest signs, ink running down their arms.
They lit and re-lit candles that the storm blew out.
They brought in bright red roses by the armfuls, handing them out among the 600 or so protesters who stood in the rain for hours Saturday evening outside the Utah Capitol demanding justice for Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, a 22-year-old man who was shot and killed by Salt Lake City police two weeks ago.
It was the eighth day of protests in Salt Lake City, originally sparked in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in Minnesota by a white officer who knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Protesters had gathered earlier Saturday at City Hall in downtown Salt Lake City and at the University of Utah.
On Saturday night at the Capitol, their chants were focused on Palacios-Carbajal, after police on Friday released body camera footage that showed two officers firing more than 20 rounds at the 22-year-old as he ran away from them.
Palacios-Carbajal’s family stood beneath a canopy and held up photos of him, the printouts covered in plastic page protectors, as hundreds of protesters chanted “Justice for Bernardo!” At times, the speaker led the chants in Spanish.
Utah Highway Patrol troopers milled around the Capitol grounds, which have been closed most of the week after it was vandalized during a protest a week ago. They kept their distance from protestors, and shut down the street in front of the Capitol once the crowd started spilling into the roadway.
The protesters shared extra snacks, water and face masks with those who needed them Saturday, and passed around ponchos when the rain started to pour. The National Weather Service said areas of the city received more than one-half inch of rain.
Owen Lopez, who said he had been close friends with Palacios-Carbajal since they were in 7th grade, said the gathering was something that his friend would have come to if someone else in their community had been shot by the police. He remembered Palacios-Carbajal as an artist, someone who was open-minded and loved by his community.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. "It’s heartbreaking to see his mom, you know? It’s heartbreaking to see all the people who were hurt from this.”
But seeing the crowd that gathered Saturday was heartening, he said. “It takes away from dealing with what we have to deal with when this is all over,” he said as the crowd chanted behind him.
Lorena Burciga, a family friend of Palacios-Carbajal, said a week ago, only a small group of people had gathered to call for justice for Palacios-Carbajal. Saturday was different — and she thanked the hundreds who showed up.
“We fight together for justice for Bernardo,” she said.
She said the family wanted the names and faces of the the officers involved in Palacios-Carbajal’s death to be publicly released, and that family wanted the officers charged with crimes and fired.
Standing at the front of the Capitol among other protesters, Jacob Siolo held a large canvas painted with an image of Palacios-Carbajal, which he made with a friend. He said he’d been out at protests all week, but created the painting in a few hours Friday night to display Saturday.
He said even though thousands have come out recently to protest in Salt Lake City, so many people still don’t know Palacios-Carbajel’s name. He wanted people to see Palacios-Carbajel’s face, and for justice to come from his death.
“That’s what compelled us to make this because, we need justice for him and his family,” he said. “I just imagined his mom watching that [body camera] video because she had no clue what happened before that."
The crowd marched from the Capitol down State Street and west to the area where Palacios-Carbajal was fatally shot in the early morning of May 23, leaving flowers for him there and chanting that the officers should be held accountable.
Police were responding to a call of a gun threat when they chased Palacios-Carbajal for several blocks, after he ran from a motel. Body camera footage released Friday afternoon showed the officers encountered Palacios at the Utah Village Motel, 271 W. 900 South, just after 2 a.m. One officer yells, “Show me your hands!” as Palacios starts to run.
The officers chased Palacios-Carbajal for several blocks, and he stumbled several times before two officers fired at least 20 shots at him while he was still running away. It doesn’t appear from the body camera videos from the three officers that Palacios-Carbajal pointed a gun at them. Police said a weapon was found near him after he was shot.
His family has called for accountability, and state and city elected leaders have asked for a speedy investigation of the police’s use of force.
Outside City Hall on Saturday afternoon, a crowd of at least 100 people listened to activists and others. University of Utah student MJ Powell spoke about the history of racism in the U.S. and read a list of names of black people killed by police, noting he was a friend of Elijah Smith, one of 19 people killed by police in Utah in 2018.
“This is why we say Black Lives Matter," he said, "and if you don’t understand by now, unfortunately, you’re part of the problem. Use your platform to help the oppressed and push for change.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall told the crowd she wanted everyone to know they are welcome to protest at City Hall, calling it their front lawn. She said she keeps near her desk a 1940s red line map, which showed banks the minority Salt Lake City neighborhoods where they shouldn’t lend money, as a reminder of the past and how communities still feel repercussions from it.
“This [movement] is about every system and every statute and every law that is on the books that was built on a racist foundation," she said.
Speaker Kamaal S. Ahmad said he wants to give Salt Lake City police the benefit of the doubt, and thinks under Chief Mike Brown’s leadership, the department can improve to become a model for the country. That will require honesty and accountability, from the department and the community, he said.
“We hold each other accountable. We hold our communities accountable. We don’t give excuses as to why something happened,” he said. "... If someone lost their life and should not have, we say it. Let’s be the change that brings this county together.”
The crowd then marched to the city’s Public Safety Building, where they were met by and spoke with Brown. He described the pitfalls of hate and said that love and understanding can bring about positive change.
“We’re going to have more conversations. We’re going to throw everything on the table and going to say, ‘This is why we do this ...’,” he said later in an interview. “We’ll continue the conversations; we’ll make the police department better. And in doing so, we’ll build this relationship" with the community.
At the University of Utah, about one hundred people drove from Guardsman Way to the U.'s public safety building in cars covered with Black Lives Matter messages. Protestors held signs demanding justice and police reform, and about U. student Lauren McCluskey, who was killed on campus in 2018 by a man she had briefly dated. Passing motorists honked their horns to show support.
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organized the car caravan to protest the deaths of Floyd and Palacios-Carbajal, and the U. police department’s mishandling of McCluskey’s case. An independent review found officers had not taken seriously McCluskey’s reports that she was being extorted and harassed.
“We’ve been seeing the movements popping up everywhere,” said SDS member Hannah Wolfson. “And we wanted to be able to support that and bring attention to some of the issues that we have here in our own community.”
During the protest, Wolfson read a statement by McCluskey’s parents. Jill McCluskey said the sexist culture at the campus police department resulted in her daughter’s preventable death.
“We call for increased police training and professionalism,“ Jill McCluskey said in the statement. “We call for sexist and racist police to be fired when they exhibit behaviors that reveal these characteristics.”
The student group also condemned the presence of campus police at protests in the past week in Salt Lake City.
“As students, we cannot allow the UofU to use their police department to brutalize and repress the people of Salt Lake City,” the group said in a statement. “Student tuition money and state education funds should not be used for police departments, especially when the SLC community and the UofU campus community have no real say in the use of that money.”'
Ermiya Fanaeian, a student entering her junior year at the U., said she attended and spoke at the protest because she strongly believes the campus police department should be defunded.
“We have a long way to go for people to understand why it is essential to not put so many of these resources towards police,” Fanaeian said in an interview. “And instead put them towards black communities, put them towards marginalized communities in the state.”
The Capitol crowd members who had marched to 300 West Saturday night created two memorials for Palacios-Carbajal near where he died. They brought along Siolo’s painting, and he came, too. A speaker thanked the crowd for remaining peaceful.
About 300 people made their way back to the Capitol. Before everyone left for the night, they gathered for one more chant: “See you tomorrow.”
Libby Seline contributed to this report.