‘A turning point in America’: Hundreds march to George Floyd mural in SLC

Speakers reminded attendees that the verdict against Derek Chauvin didn’t mean the work to undo systemic racism was done.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rae Duckworth is joined by her daughter Rae Jr., 6, as they join others at the murals of people killed by police, including Rae’s cousin, in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, following the guilty verdict on all three counts in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

Ex-police Officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction for killing George Floyd drew an emotional response Tuesday, just like the video of Floyd’s slow death under Chauvin’s knee did in May.

Live video showed crowds cheering outside the courthouse in Minneapolis at the news that Chauvin had been found guilty on all three counts filed against him, including second-degree murder. Some people cried. At least one man dropped to his knees.

Chauvin, a white officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes as the Black man repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and slowly died, was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

In the courtroom, Chauvin wore a disposable face mask and appeared to show no emotion, save for moving his eyes left and right, as Judge Peter Cahill read the verdict. Chauvin was ordered to remain in custody until his sentencing.

Cahill thanked the jurors for “not only jury service, but heavy-duty jury service.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jamari and Jahavion Butoyi hold signs as people march in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 to mark the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

Before the verdict, Utah’s governor called on residents to “respect personal safety, life and property” if they protest the decision. Gov. Spencer Cox added that threats to safety, life and property “will not be tolerated.” The president of the Salt Lake City branch of the NAACP, Jeanetta Williams, joined the governor in “calling for calm.”

A rally of several hundred people took place later in downtown Salt Lake City, not in protest of the decision, but in support of it.

Demonstrators walked down city streets from the Salt Lake City police headquarters to the murals for victims of police violence near 300 West and 800 South. They chanted Floyd’s name, and speakers reminded attendees that this verdict didn’t mean the work to undo systemic racism and violence in policing was done.

Local activist groups, including Utah Against Police Brutality, had planned the rally in Salt Lake City prior to the verdict to “express solidarity to the people of Minneapolis, in their demands for justice” for George Floyd and Daunte Wright.

Wright, 20, was fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer after a traffic stop earlier this month.

Around 5 p.m. Tuesday, Salt Lake City police erected barricades on streets near the planned protest site.

By about 6:30 p.m., an estimated 300 people had gathered at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building. Speakers called for justice for Utahns killed or injured by police, including Darrien Hunt, Zane James, Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, Jovany Mercado and Linden Cameron, a 13-year-old shot during a mental health crisis.

Black Lives Matter activist Mario Mathis told attendees that he was “shocked” by the guilty verdict. It’s “unusual” for officers to be convicted, he said, but added, “we’ll take this as a new day, a turning point in America.”

As the crowd applauded, Mathis continued, “Let’s not take it easy. This is the time to draw motivation from this. Let’s draw motivation from this and keep going.”

Another speaker, Devonte M., told the crowd to raise their fists and turn to face the Salt Lake City police headquarters, where they’d gathered.

“Salt Lake PD, I hope you guys can hear me,” he said. “This needs to serve as your wake-up call.”

He also called out Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, saying Chauvin’s conviction was the first step in holding law enforcement and the criminal justice system accountable for shootings.

The “whole damn system” was next, he said.

[Read more: Here’s why only three Utah police officers have been charged for shooting at people in the past decade — and why none was convicted.]

Gill had released a statement earlier in the day applauding the verdict, saying, “Guilty. The first step in a conversation long overdue.”

At 7 p.m., demonstrators began marching to the murals, located at the city-owned Fleet Block in the Granary District. About 45 minutes later, the crowd arrived at the series of paintings, where speeches and chants continued.

As the group arrived, crowded shoulder to shoulder across the width of 300 West, they chanted, “No justice, no peace.”

After the verdict was read earlier in the day, some Utahns left their homes to pay respects beneath Floyd’s visage at the Salt Lake City murals. Leaders also released statements applauding the jurors’ decision — and vowed that work to end racism and violence in policing wouldn’t stop with this conviction.

Stephanie Merzel, who was visiting Salt Lake City from her home in St. George, was in front of Floyd’s mural within minutes of the conviction announcement. She stood with her back facing the wall and placed her palms together in a Buddhist hand gesture of respect and salutation.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stephanie Merzel who is Buddhist gestures as a way to “honor” the memory of George Floyd as she stops at his mural in downtown Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, following the guilty verdict on all three counts in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

In the moment, Merzel, a Buddhist, said she was wishing Floyd “safe passage.” She was thinking of justice and what is sacred, she said, adding, “I was not thinking about Derek Chauvin.”

Frankie Lucas loaded her three children into the car after the conviction and brought them to the mural site, too.

“I was so happy,” she said, “I started crying. We’re getting justice.”

On the way there, Lucas said she tried to explain to her oldest child, a 7-year-old boy, what happened Tuesday with Chavin’s conviction. He’s at the age when he can understand right from wrong, Lucas said, and she wanted to show him that what Chauvin did to Floyd was wrong.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People march in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 to mark the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

“I took a couple pictures of them in front of the mural to remember this day, because it is in history now. ... ” Lucas said. “So that later on, they can know [racial justice] is something we do support and we should always support.”

The Salt Lake City Commission on Racial Equity in Policing offered prayers and support to Floyd’s family at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Rev. France Davis read a statement saying that the commission hopes the guilty verdict offers some relief to the family amid the pain of their loss. He urged the community to accept the verdict in peace and honor Floyd with peace.

Commissioner Carol Shifflett said she got down on her knees and thanked God when she heard the verdict. She said she is grateful her parents are still alive to see this happen.

“But it’s not over. ... I think about all the families who didn’t get justice,” she said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake City Racial and Equity in Policing Commission members Darlene McDonald, left, and Carol Matthews/Shifflett express their relief during a press event at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, following the guilty verdict on all three counts in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

Commissioner Darlene McDonald, a national committee member of the Utah Democratic Party, said there is a long way to go but that she is going to hold onto this moment and rejoice in it. She said the first thing she would do after the news conference was to call back her elderly father, who had been trying to reach her about the verdict.

“He lived through a lot and has seen a lot of Black and brown people killed and murdered ... by law enforcement and as part of white supremacy,” she said to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Utah leaders also quickly released statements about the verdict.

Rep. Burgess Owens, a Republican, said on Twitter that justice has been served.

“Today, justice was served in the senseless killing of George Floyd,” he said. “I am praying for peace and healing in Minnesota and across the nation as we the people unite to build bridges for positive change.”

Former Utah congresswoman Mia Love also commented on the decision, asking people to remember Floyd and his family.

“Justice was served, but let’s remember the life that was was lost,” Love said. “This is justice that no family should ever have to await.”

Love, a Republican, added that now, people need to do their part to “improve and heal” the nation.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson tweeted that she was “pleased” with the verdict — saying it was clear that Floyd was “murdered without remorse” — but said communities in Utah still need to work to address systemic issues of racism in the criminal justice system, especially in law enforcement.

“As a community, I ask that we work collaboratively to address systemic issues regarding race and justice as we seek to reshape our institutions in order to promote accountability and justice,” said Wilson, a Democrat.

The Utah State Democrats’ progressive Quad Caucus released a statement saying it is encouraged by the jury’s decision and confident that meaningful reform will continue in Utah and throughout the country.

Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith, who bought the Utah Jazz in October and has been working to make the Jazz an “actively anti-racist” organization, tweeted that his thoughts were with Floyd’s family Tuesday.

He added, “We must all actively work toward meaningful, systemic change.”

[Read more: Utah Jazz, NBA and WNBA react to Derek Chauvin’s conviction.]

Nonprofit United Way of Salt Lake tweeted that it is “encouraged” by the verdict, but that the verdict alone does not erase the inequalities and injustices experienced by non-white people.

The Utah Department of Public Safety released a statement that does not explicitly endorse or condemn the verdict. Instead, it draws attention to changes the department says it has made over the past year such as working with the Legislature to ban the use of knee-on-neck chokeholds by Utah police.

“We are committed to future reform efforts, including transparency, training, accountability, punishment of officer misconduct, community engagement, fairness and social justice,” reads the statement. “We join Governor Cox in urging Utahns who plan to respond to the verdict to do so within the bounds guaranteed by the First Amendment. We will respect personal safety, life and property. Any threats against such will not be tolerated.”

Salt Lake City was the site of multiple, mostly peaceful demonstrations in the wake of Floyd’s death. One, however, turned violent on May 30 when protesters set two cars on fire and threw rocks at businesses and cars. Police responded with rubber bullets and arrests, then-Gov. Gary Herbert activated the National Guard and Salt Lake City imposed a curfew.

— Tribune reporter Scott D. Pierce contributed to this story.

Correction: April 20, 9:51 p.m. • An earlier version of this story misidentified the barriers on the steps of City Hall. They were put in place after the steps were damaged in the 2020 earthquake.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hundreds gathered at George Floyd's mural in downtown Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, following the guilty verdict on all three counts in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.