Almost six years before George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, people marched for police reform in Utah.
“If people would have listened a long time ago,” said Gina Thayne, Dillon Taylor’s aunt, “maybe we could have saved their lives.”
Taylor’s family and supporters of Black Lives Matter Utah held what they called a vigil Tuesday night, though it could also have been described as a protest or a rally. They held it at the corner of 300 West and 800 South in Salt Lake City outside of a building where painted portraits of Dillon Taylor and others killed by Utah police adorn the walls. About 100 people were in attendance.
Thayne said Floyd’s death drew more attention to Taylor’s death. That makes her happy and mad. She said she’s sorry for Floyd’s death but pleased people are finally listening to her calls to make police use less force.
“Our cries have gone unheard for a long time,” Thayne said.
Taylor was killed outside a 7-Eleven store near 2100 South and State Street. The store was in South Salt Lake, but Salt Lake City police were the first to respond to a 911 call from someone near the store about someone flashing a gun.
When officers confronted Taylor, he didn’t immediately respond to Officer Bron Cruz’s orders to stop and show his hands. Taylor kept his hands in his pants and tried to walk away. When he did turn around and pulled out his hands, Cruz shot him twice. Taylor did not have a gun and was wearing headphones attached to a cellphone in his pocket.
Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill ruled the shooting legally justified. On Tuesday, there was a minute of silence at 7 p.m. — the time Taylor died.
Less than a month after Taylor’s death, police in Saratoga Springs shot and killed Darrien Hunt, who was carrying a model sword and did not follow officers’ commands to stop. Although the Utah County attorney ruled the killing legally justified, Hunt’s family has maintained his shooting was a crime.
Hunt’s aunt, Cindy Moss, talked Tuesday about her desire to remove the legal immunities police officers have from most lawsuits as well as other reforms she’d like to see to hold officers accountable for what she considers crimes. She agreed the deaths of Taylor, Hunt and others didn’t receive enough notice from the public until this summer.
“They didn’t get any attention in Utah, hardly,” Moss said, “and we need our state to take it seriously.”
Last month, the family of Jovany Mercado filed suit against Ogden police for his 2019 death. Officers shot and killed him in his own driveway after Mercado did not obey their commands to drop a knife. The lawsuit contends Mercado was not threatening anyone.
Members of the Mercado family attended Tuesday’s vigil, wearing red T-shirts with his face and the words “#Justice4Jovany.” His 24-year-old sister, Ruby Mercado, said it’s still hard to get elected officials and others to listen to her desire for police reform, but she has learned she needs to stay active in her lobbying.
“As we’ve come to learn,” Mercado said, “nobody is going to do it for you. So you better do it for yourself.”
When Thayne addressed the supporters Tuesday, she told them, “Dillion didn’t have to die.”
She then said the same thing of another half-dozen or so people killed by Utah police. Thayne said she could continue, but there are too many people for her to name.