Victor Copeland: Why is Chief Massassoit the only Capitol statue without police tape?

(Photo courtesy of the Utah State Capitol) A statue of Chief Massasoit by Utah artist Cyrus E. Dallin in front of the East doors of the Capitol. Massasoit was a Native American who greeted pilgrims at Plymouth, Mass.

I love our state’s Capitol grounds. I love how they sit on top a hill above downtown. I love the views of the desert to the west, the valley to the south, the Wasatch range to the east, and the City Creek foothills to the north.

I love watching tourists, visitors and locals taking photographs, recreating and exercising their First Amendment rights on the hilly grass and paved plazas while I jog around the path that surrounds the Capitol.

So it was ominous to see people cleared out from the grounds in the days following the murder of George Floyd, a peaceful Black man, by Minneapolis police officers. It was ominous to feel a militarized presence — tan Humvees, camo uniforms, and war-ready rifles — rerouting traffic at the intersection of East Capitol and Bonneville Boulevard. And it was ominous to see police tape wrapped around the monuments at the Capitol.

The Utah Law Enforcement Memorial? Wrapped in police tape. The Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos Veterans Memorial? Wrapped in police tape. The Mormon Battalion Monument near the southeast corner? Wrapped in police tape. Even the “State of Utah” sign at the south walkway is wrapped in police tape.

But I could not help but to notice an outlier. There was one monument that has never had any police tape wrapped around it — the statue of Chief Massassoit by Utah artist Cyrus Dallin at the east entrance. (As an aside, I join Tom Lovell in wanting to see a statue of a prominent American Indian with Utah ties added to the Capitol grounds, but that is for another day).

Just this week, I was on my afternoon jog on the path around the Capitol grounds. The police tape—and lack of it around the Chief Massassoit statue—was the same as it has been for the past month. I came across three police officers walking the path in the opposite direction (not wearing masks or social distancing, but that is also for another day). I asked them why there wasn’t police tape around the Chief Massassoit statue. I am sure they meant well, and nearly certain they weren’t intentionally lying, but the reasons they gave were demonstrably false.

One officer explained this could be because people have been pulling the tape down. But ever since the police tape has been installed on the Capitol grounds, there has never been police tape around the Chief Massassoit statue for people to tear down.

Another officer indicated that, given the location of the statue, it is difficult to put tape around it. But that has not been an issue for the other monuments—police officers have simply used orange traffic delineator tubes to fashion a perimeter around what they are trying to protect from vandalism.

That same officer mentioned that “people really like taking photos with the Chief.” True enough. But people also love posing for photos in front of the iconic “State of Utah” sign at the south walkway, and that didn’t stop police officers from surrounding it with police tape.

Whatever the reasons may be, it is not the best optics for the police officers on the Capitol grounds to treat the Chief Massassoit statue different from the other monuments currently surrounded by police tape. Some may view this as a little thing, but there’s a lot of “there” there. As we collectively grapple with the persistent reality of disparate treatment, impacts and outcomes in our country based upon a person’s race, it is an attempt to bring conscious light to behaviors of symbolic significance which might otherwise remain implicit, unconscious or overlooked.

Victor Copeland

Victor Copeland, a resident of downtown Salt Lake City, a climber and a lawyer. The views expressed here are made in his individual capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employers, clients or anyone else.