The shooting of Mike Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson has shaken our nation to its very foundation, bringing to light police brutality toward African Americans and the police’s overt display of militarization. Adding further to the profound outrage of the many seeking justice for Brown, the legal option seemed wasted as a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson for his actions. As if this were not enough of a blow to the Ferguson community, many were immediately aware of the cold hand dealt to them during the initial handling of the unrest following the shooting of Brown. The Ferguson Police Department’s actions in quelling unrest were questionable, at best. Their actions included detaining journalists and enforcing night curfews with tanks and tear gas. The rioters only calmed after Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ceded authority from Ferguson Police Department to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ronald S. Johnson.
In the wake of the grand jury’s decision, the raw anger felt on account of this injustice has exploded back into the streets, and not just in Ferguson, but all over the United States. It is keenly felt in Utah, for a number of Utahns have also been on the receiving end of police violence. Specifically, this is seen in regard to the controversy surrounding the cases of Jacoyia Roseberry, Dillon Taylor, Corey Kanosh and Darrien Nathaniel Hunt.
Paying attention to the events unfolding, I am notified of an invite to attend an event organized by Utah Against Police Brutality for solidarity with Ferguson—as well as highlight what’s happening here in Utah—at the Wallace B Federal Building. “This is about killer cops going crazy, and we are not going to take it anymore,” says speaker Greg Lucero. Though I am early to the rally, the popularity of this issue is apparent, as there are a good number already in attendance. By 2 p.m., a couple hundred are here, with many more still sprinkling in. The rally starts off with chants to get the crowd fired up, such as “From Ferguson to SLC, end police brutality” and “Acts of police brutality: not in our community.”
The speakers at the rally are those who represent Utahns who have been brutalized or killed. They include Gina Thayne, Cindy Moss, Marlee Kanosh, Roseberry, Oscar Ross, Barbara Ochoa, Al. E. Khalife, Karen Rodriguez, Lucero and former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. At first, the speeches are plagued with low sound quality, making it difficult to hear speakers in the back, but this is quickly rectified with a P.A. The speeches suggest that that justice is not for everyone anymore and highlight the continuation of a feeling of systematic persecution that is felt in the very roots of communities across America. Kanosh, speaking of the police slaying of her brother Corey Kanosh in 2012, states “’The only good Indian is a dead Indian’—that’s what they are saying in Millard County.”
Kalife offers a colorful rendition to “America the Beautiful,” which seems all too appropriate, while Ross dishes out fiery rhetoric, emphasizing police brutality in the 21st century. However, bringing the message of the rally to a point, Lucero states, “Here, today, the ghosts of brother MLK and brother Malcom are here with us. Their struggle is not finished.” He goes on to comment that there are good cops, demanding, “Why aren’t the good cops outing the bad cops?”
Standing toward the back, I observe the continual buildup of the crowd, a number that is close to 200–300 people. There is no visible police presence among the protesters, with the exception of three security officers from the Federal Building who tell a photographer to get off a sculpture in the plaza.
The last speaker, former Mayor Anderson, tells the stories of Eric Garner and others victimized by police brutality. He further emphasizes the need for the police to pay attention to the rule of law outlined in our republic’s constitution and that “it’s going to take a movement to shake things up.” Anderson suggests solutions to combat the abuses, one of which is an independent civilian police review board.
Riding the wave of energy that has inspired and riled the protesters, the crowd takes to the streets. Despite the lack of permit, it seems that everyone in attendance is marching down State Street chanting, “No justice, no peace, no killer police” and the iconic “Hands up, don’t shoot.” The march includes a diverse group of people, including black bloc anarchists, socialists, punk rockers, family members of the victims and an even wider variety of angry people who are fed up, all of whom are cheered on by the many honks of approvals from by standing cars. It’s good to see this kind of unity.
At first, there is little police presence, but within minutes of marching, they do come—not to arrest, as that would not be smart with a crowd this big. Rather, they provide a sort of escort to each destination, directing traffic around the marchers. Regarding the opinion of protester Fabuki about the loose police presence, she says, “It’s kind of intimidating, but whatever.” It is clear that there are more people out in protest than cops. The first stop is the Matheson Courthouse. Protesters then cross the street and march east on 400 South and find themselves in front of the new Public Safety Building.
Still riding high on the enthusiasm of the march, the protesters advance back to the Federal Building. There are some minor attempts of stirring agitation from troublemakers, but the protesters handle their own efficiently and carefully. Concluding the rally, there is a call for people to continue to organize and attend a planning meeting at the Downtown Salt Lake Public Library on Dec. 17. This seems to have been one of the biggest acts of civil disobedience that Salt Lake has seen in recent history. Thomas, an activist in attendance, says, “[It’s] probably the best protest I’ve seen in years.”
As I make my leave down the street to grab some cash, I become all too aware of my vulnerability as I am on my own. This feeling is certain as I watch the police nab someone on a skateboard in front of me—though, for a split second, I thought it was me they were after. The cops were smart in this case: They waited until the crowd had thinned out before conducting an arrest. After calmly finishing my errand, I find some cover with a pair of onlookers who are observing the three cops, from different squad cars, handle the skateboarder kid and his belongings (I was not able to confirm his identity). It all seemed rather excessive for one guy.
Huddled with some newfound friends, I make my way back up the street, away from the drama unfolding. Lacking a smartphone, I am grateful for the other bystanders documenting this police action with their phones. Thank god for independent accountability.
To take action against police violence in Utah, you can call local officials to ensure responsible parties are held accountable , and join Utah Against Police Brutality on Facebook and at their next meeting: 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Salt Lake Public Library.
Check out our extended gallery with photos of the protest by Megan Kennedy!