Disclaimer: The Forum has made the decision to blur unmasked faces in all photos in order to protect the identity of protesters. Historically, protesters have been put in danger due to their identities going viral in photos. The Forum is prioritizing safety and will not contribute to putting protestors in harm’s way even for the sake of transparency.
Protesters took to the streets in Salt Lake City Saturday to protest police brutality and the recent deaths of unarmed Black people. The event took a turn, however, when many non-Black participants began to use violent methods against the organizers’ wishes, according to attendees.
Salt Lake was not the only city to protest. Protesters are seeking justice throughout the nation after an unarmed and handcuffed Black man, George Floyd, was killed in police custody by an officer kneeling on his neck for eight minutes May 25.
The local protest was planned to follow social distancing guidelines with organizers asking participants to stay in their cars. There were also going to be small groups of people walking to comply with public health measures, but many more showed up on foot than expected.
Peaceful protest turns violent after police car set on fire
The originally-peaceful protest turned violent around 3 p.m. Saturday when some protesters flipped a Salt Lake City Police Department patrol vehicle over. Once overturned, that first vehicle was vandalized and set on fire.
Later, a second vehicle was flipped and set on fire in response to an anti-protester who pulled out a bow-and-arrow, threatening nearby crowds. The man was attacked by protesters before being taken away by police officers.
That man has since been identified by police and local news outlets, with SLCPD currently screening charges but they do not have him in custody.
Protest organizers upset with violence
Many were upset about the protest’s deterioration into violence, including organizers and protestors.
“If you come and say you’re an ally but start doing violent behaviors, then we don’t need you on the streets with us,” said Carlos Garcia, a community member who live-streamed the event on Instagram, in a direct message to The Forum.
He said it was frustrating because “we the people are fed up and can do a lot together [while] peaceful.”
Protesters were not the only ones who participated in the violence. Police and the National Guard used pepper spray, pepper ball guns and rubber bullets, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The police made 46 arrests as of this publication related to the protest and are trying to identify the protesters who flipped and vandalized the patrol car, according to the Salt Lake City police department Twitter.
There was an instance of an officer using their riot shield to push down an elderly person that a nearby news crew caught on camera. The SLCPD has said they are aware of the situation and will “deal with it.”
SLCPD Chief Mike Brown announced in a video Sunday the department has identified the officer, and will be launching an investigation.
In response to the protest, Mayor Erin Mendenhall placed a curfew over Salt Lake City (which includes Westminster College’s campus in Sugar House) from 8 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday.
According to Mayor Mendenhall’s Twitter feed, the curfew mandates that residents “may not be on a public street or in any public place, including for the purpose of travel.”
The curfew includes exceptions for first responders, news media, those traveling directly to and from work and the airport, obtaining food, seeking medical care, fleeing dangerous circumstances or experiencing homelessness.
ASW Vice President and local activist says violence was not caused by organizers
Among those disappointed with the violence and non-peaceful methods that occurred were Westminster students and community members.
Daud Mumin — a Westminster student, incoming ASW vice president and noted local activist — said on his public Instagram story that the situation turned to violence was not incited by any Black or non-Black people of color.
“Violence is a retaliation—not a provocation—action,” he said Saturday. “And we must continue controlling this narrative that the Black Lives Matter protest that happened in Salt Lake City today was not violent due to the actions of […] organizers.”
In an interview with The Forum, Mumin said Salt Lake City organizers needed “to stand up with our fellow activists in Minneapolis,” despite the health risks of protesting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[Protesting during the pandemic] was a risk we had to put ourselves in, not wanted to put ourselves in,” he said. “If anything, COVID has disabled the magnitude that we could have had […] A lot of vulnerable communities just weren’t able to show up.”
Mumin expressed frustration and disappointment in reaction to Mayor Mendenhall’s weekend curfew.
“It’s frustrating that their first step is to implement a curfew instead of asking, ‘How can we help these frustrated citizens?’” he said. “Curfews are hurtful. Literally the point of curfews is to disable rebellion and to disable protesting.”
Mumin said the curfew and Gov. Gary Herbert’s activation of the National Guard was telling of the Utah government’s stance on the issue.
“It’s interesting that they can implement curfews and the National Guard within a split second but can’t advocate for a community member that was shot by the police,” he said. “I think it’s horrible.”
Westminster students show up in solidarity
Another Westminster student, Katie Valdez, participated in the car caravan portion of the protest and said she went to show support for Black and indigenous people who have been disproportionately affected by police brutality.
“I attended the protest today to express my general discontent (to put it mildly) with this nation, which was founded on and *continues* to stand for white supremacy,” said Valdez in an Instagram message to The Forum.
Valdez said she left before things got out of hand and didn’t witness any damage or vandalism firsthand, but knows people who did.
“By their account (as well as the photos and videos I’ve seen on social media), those who participated in non-peaceful tactics were non-Black (mainly white) individuals who were obviously not following the guidelines set forth by organizers,” Valdez said.
While she was there, Valdez said the majority of people were acting peacefully, positively and following protest guidelines.
Valdez said it was wrong of non-Black protestors to break the organizers’ guidelines and engage in non-peaceful methods.
“Rioting is appropriate when it is a *response* to police violence, which has been the case in the vast majority of riots across the nation,” Valdez said. “These non-Black, non-peaceful protesters gave the police justification to use force, and ultimately tarnished the reputation of this movement in the public eye.”
The Black community will also feel the brunt of the consequences for non-Black protestors’ actions, Valdez said.
“The [Black community is] most likely to be racially profiled and arrested for the actions of non-Black protesters,” Valdez said. “[…] The community who will ultimately face public stigmatization because it’s *their* images largely being associated with violent acts in the media. These non-Black protesters failed the Black community today.”
She said it is valid for Black and indigenous people to engage in violent and non-peaceful methods because of the history of violence against them.
“They have historically and contemporarily suffered racism, discrimination, and violence at the hands of the state—in particular the police,” Valdez said. “Their actions are a *response* to hundreds of years of oppression and are appropriate in that respect.”
Moving forward from the protests
Despite the results of the protest in Salt Lake City, Valdez said she thinks the movement has “revolutionary potential” and can have long-lasting impacts on the country.
“Movements like these—if they continue to keep this energy for long periods of time—have historically created change in ways that other avenues of political action are not capable of creating,” Valdez said. “However, if the movement continues on in this fashion—with protesters who refuse to follow guidelines and go against directives of organizers—I think it will ultimately be met with a negative public response and punitive state action. From here on out, it is imperative that non-Black people wishing to make a change LISTEN to their Black peers and follow their lead in this movement.”
Westminster College administration responds to protests
When considering Westminster’s role in this national issue, Daud Mumin said he was frustrated with the lack of response immediately following the protest Saturday.
“You have black students that you serve,” he said. “You have to stand up for them and show solidarity with them and show them that you care about them.”
The Westminster community needs to recognize and act on its privilege as a private higher education institution whose student body is predominantly white, Mumin said.
“That’s not to say that Westminster did anything inherently bad,” he said. “But to stay silent in moments of injustice is betrayal.”
Westminster President Beth Dobkin responded to the weekend’s events in an email Monday afternoon.
President Dobkin acknowledged Black and non-Black people of color have been disproportionately affected in the pandemic. She similarly recognized the differences of privilege those in the Westminster community experience in general.
“For those of us in the white majority, the inherent racism that permeates much of our cultural imagery and economic systems sits outside of our daily experience,” she said.
People with privilege and power are responsible for addressing these systemic issues, according to Dobkin, especially white people and people who claim to care about equity.
She said people who identify as white should not rely on Black people to educate them but should take advantage of specifically teachable moments such as the upcoming “Social Unrest in a Global Pandemic,” conversation. This conversation will be hosted on Thursday at noon by Westminster’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Tamara Stevenson, and other expert Westminster faculty.
President Dobkin finished the email in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We all may be stressed right now, fearful for our health, safety, and security, but the impact of that stress disproportionately affects Black people,” she said. “Once we behave as if Black lives matter, all lives will matter more.”
Daud Mumin, a protest organizer, said, in response to the nationwide situation in general, that American people of color are tired.
“We’re tired, we want action, we want things to change, we want hope,” Mumin said. “When we say ‘No justice, no peace,’ we mean that.”
*Correction: In a previous version of this story, The Forum incorrectly identified Carlos Garcia as a source.