Protesters at competing rallies for and against the police on Saturday managed to agree on one thing: Neither likes the reforms imposed by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.
Police supporters say they go too far, while critics of police violence say they are too weak.
“They definitely don’t go far enough,” said Dave Newlin, an organizer of a Utah Against Police Brutality rally at the Salt Lake City police station. It attracted about 100 protesters on Saturday.
Alternatively, several groups who organized a “Back the Blue” rally at City Hall (which, ironically, was not coordinated by a group of that same name) posted online that Mendenhall restricted police “from doing their jobs and protecting Salt Lake City during violent riots and unlawful assemblies,” and called on people to show police that “we have their back and support them.” That rally drew around 75 people.
Earlier this month, Mendenhall signed an executive order to require such things as strengthening requirements for body cameras, narrowing parameters for when police can use force, and requiring a person’s consent for searches without warrants. Reforms also require use of de-escalation techniques before using force or making an arrest
A police union later called many of Mendenhall’s orders “dangerous experiments that do not have any scientific evidence to support them.”
Protesters for and against the police weighed in about the reforms Saturday.
Newlin, a former Salt Lake Tribune employee with Utah Against Police Brutality, said in an interview that the mayor’s orders “aren’t exactly bad and most of them already were in place.” But, he said, “This isn’t what we asked for.”
Instead, “We’ve been calling for what we call community control of police strength,” including electing an independent board — separate from city and police control — to oversee police.
His group’s rally on Saturday focused on people who died recently at the hands of police, especially Richie Santiago, who was shot and killed by police a year ago in a car outside his apartment.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the shooting was justified after body camera footage showed that Santiago pulled a gun.
Newlin disagrees with that conclusion and said, “This was a totally unjustified murder, and we’ve got to put a stop to it.”
Organizers of the Back the Blue rally, meanwhile, had posted online, “Time and time again, protesters have illegally blocked traffic on major roads, they have cost taxpayers $200,000 in public building damages, and the police have been instructed to stand down while this happens. It’s time to call Mayor Mendenhall out for not supporting the police.”
Skye Christensen, an organizer of the event and member of a group called The Blue Line Unites Everyone, said in an interview that while the online invitation had criticized Mendenhall, the event was mostly intended to show police that they have community support.
“We want to show these police officers there are people that are willing to stand and show them support and love during these really hard times,” she said. “This event is just about positivity and bringing these officers some love.”
Other speakers at the pro-police rally said the event also sought to try to close divisions in the city and nation.
“We need to close the gap when it comes to the divide and hate going on. We are not each other’s enemy,” Shannon Macinnes, with a group called Civilized Awakening, said in an interview. “I think there is absolutely a middle ground for unity. I think there is a middle ground to discuss reform options without having to abolish the police.”
James Sullivan, also with Civilized Awakening, said in an interview, “I don’t exactly agree with what Erin Mendenhall has been doing” with the police department and “taking away support from them during these times.” But he said he wants to help push unity in the community, and help all sides look at the root of violence involving police to help stop it.