Lex Scott steps down from leading local Black Lives Matter group because of death threats

Scott said she and her family have moved out of state; Rae Duckworth will lead the organization.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lex Scott is shown at a rally sponsored by the Black Lives Matter Utah chapter, at the Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 16, 2021. Scott stepped down Sunday.

The longtime leader of Utah’s most prominent Black Lives Matter group resigned Sunday and has moved to another state because of death threats.

Lex Scott began protesting as part of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014, after Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Mo. She helped bring that movement to Utah, she said in an emotional goodbye video on a Black Lives Matter Facebook page.

“I gave it 110 [percent], guys. I gave it 110,” Scott said through tears. “I gave it everything.”

But, she said in a statement about her departure, “over the last month you know that I received death threats like a flood.”

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Activist Lex Scott at a meeting of the Community Activist Group, Wednesday January 18, 2017. The CAG meets with police and city representatives every other week. At rear is Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown.

Scott and her group were targeted after she said the American flag was “symbol of hatred” and anyone who flies it “a racist.”

The deaths threats aren’t new — the phone line for her organization specifically mentions any threats will be forwarded to the FBI — but Scott said she felt herself getting worn down by them, to the point she was on the defensive so much that she stopped living.

She said daily security protocols became a part of her and her family’s life, and she had to move her daughter’s bedroom for fear of her getting caught in a pipe bomb explosion.

“This is not life,” she said. “And my family should not have to live that.”

Rae Duckworth, a Utah activist, will take over the organization. Duckworth is related to Bobby Duckworth, a 26-year-old killed by Wellington police in September 2019. Bobby Duckworth was suicidal and carrying a knife when he was shot.

In a message to followers after taking on the role, Rae Duckworth said that much of what Black Lives Matter does will remain the same.

So-called cop watches, where Black Lives Matter members go out on street corners to watch and record police on video, will continue. So will participation in Salt Lake City police’s Community Advocates Group. Black Lives Matter will also continue drafting legislation and ballot initiatives for police reform.

“We are still fighting for mental health, healing and rehabilitation. We are capable of healing. We need to value our mental health. We need to refill our cups,” she said. “I am the worst at following this advice, but I am the best at giving the reminder.”

Scott said in her post that she and her family have moved to a new city and she is feeling much safer. She doesn’t say where she moved, but says it is out of state and that the population is predominantly Black.

“I have been in and out of Utah. But in my new home, I noticed something weird,” Scott said. “I can sleep at night, which is a new thing. I can sleep.”

She said the work to eradicate police violence and brutality is not done and that she will never stop being an activist.

“I will never not be a part of this movement. Police officers can retire. Black people cannot,” Scott said. “We will always be under this racist system, and we can’t go anywhere to avoid that.”

Utah Against Police Brutality organizer Jade Arter said the activism community would miss Scott — with her big personality and passion for causes and people — but that she’d done a good job preparing Rae Duckworth to take over the organization. Arter added that she’s happy Scott did what she needed to in order to keep her family safe.

“She’s paved the way through a lot of tireless work to support Black kids in school, the unsheltered, [and] all victims of police brutality,” Arter said. “And the rest of us are still here and we’re going to keep that up and we’re going to keep fighting.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall released a statement wishing Scott “safety and happiness in her new home.”

“Leadership is difficult,” Mendenhall said, “and Lex took on that role of leader in our state in the call to confront racism while making space for people to join her in that movement.”

During Scott’s tenure as a Black Lives Matter leader, the group staged dozens of protests to honor victims of police shootings. In her video statement, Scott said these demonstrations began as small meetups at Maxwell’s East Coast Eatery in downtown Salt Lake City — and few, if any people, showed up.

Through the years, the protests grew, and the group started doing more community outreach. Scott was instantly recognizable there, normally wearing a baseball cap and holding a megaphone, and leading the group in chants. She often wore a pistol holstered to her leg.

She told The Salt Lake Tribune during a recent interview that she wore the gun in honor of the people who were killed in Utah — an open-carry state — who were carrying weapons when shot by police. She said she hoped it would reduce stigma and fear around racial and ethnic minorities carrying weapons.

She specifically mentioned Darrien Hunt, a 22-year-old Black man who was holding a cosplay samurai sword when he was fatally shot by Saratoga Springs police in September 2014.

“Police legally do not have the right to stop you when you’re carrying a weapon. And I decided a long time ago, every single time police officers see me, I want them to see me with a gun,” Scott said. “I want them to see a Black person with a gun.”

Under Scott’s leadership, Black Lives Matter founded a mobile Black history museum, helped give meals to people experiencing homelessness, started a summer camp for Black children, registered hundreds to vote, and helped write and otherwise impact legislation.

In a recent interview, Scott said she was tired of pushing for change in policing and getting what she called “fluff bills that do not prevent” police shootings in return.

During this past legislative session, for instance, Black Lives Matter-supported bills that would have given the community more control over police departments failed, while more modest reforms were signed into law, like measures that would require police to record and collect data anytime an officer pulls his or her gun. Or a bill barring an officer from shooting a suicidal person who is a threat only to him or herself.

She said during a panel after the session, “The police reform bills that pass are the ones that were backed by police. And it’s like if you’re a child that gets in trouble and you get to choose your own punishment or you can set the rules.”