SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A leading anti-police brutality activist in Utah condemned the destruction of property that occurred during a protest Saturday night in Salt Lake City. But she said broken buildings shouldn’t be mourned on the same level as black men like George Floyd who are killed by police.
“As Martin Luther King said, the riot is the language of the unheard. Maybe this country will get the memo that we are sick of police murdering unarmed black men,” said Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah. “Maybe the next time a white police officer decides to pull the trigger, he will picture cities burning.”
Forty-one people were arrested in Salt Lake City during volatile protests that led to one police car being burned, one officer being seriously injured and the implementation of a curfew, Salt Lake City police said Sunday morning as crews cleaned up streets and scrubbed graffiti from buildings including the state Capitol.
Scott attributed the destruction to “shameful, disgusting and lazy activists” who are not members of her group that bans violence and has been diligently working with police to create reform. Her group didn’t organize any part of the Salt Lake City protest, she said, but supports the underlying cause behind the demonstrations going on around the country.
Most people peacefully marched, chanted or blew their car horns on Saturday. But some protesters turned to violence and vandalism, setting two cars on fire and attacking police officers, who responded with tear gas. Men carrying rifles stood on top of the wreckage of a burned police car.
What was billed as a “car caravan for justice” began with people in vehicles circling the Salt Lake City Police Department with signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for George Floyd.” People on foot smashed eggs against the windows of the police station in Salt Lake City. Messages were written on the building that said, “We can’t breathe” along with expletives directed at police.
Floyd, a black man, died Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck until he stopped breathing. His death has prompted protests across the U.S. and Europe.
A group called Utah Against Police Brutality, which organized the car caravan part of the protest, said in a statement Sunday on Facebook that demonstrations reflect “what happens when elected officials, police departments, and leaders ignore the constant call for justice in the U.S.”
“This is what happens when the people get tired of waiting for Salt Lake and Utah to do something about racist cops and police violence,” the group said. “This is what happens when they refuse to listen, refuse to reform, refuse to hold officers accountable, and refuse to do what has been asked of them over and over again. This is what happens when police target black and brown people and communities for years with no consequence.”
Most of the people were arrested for failure to disperse, while a few were booked on suspicion of breaking a curfew and assault on a police officer, said Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown during a briefing with reporters. He said his agency was working to get more details about the people arrested, including where they live because he believes people from outside Utah came to instigate the violence.
A total of 21 police officers received medical care, and one police officer was hit in the back of the head with a bat, Brown said.
He said his agency has also identified a man who aimed a bow and arrow at a group of protesters before he was tackled and his car burned and that the incident is being investigated. Brown said the man was pulled from the crowd for his safety because officers saw he was being attacked and didn’t learn until later that he had aimed a bow and arrow at protesters.
He and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall asked anyone with information about the incident to contact police.
“That was troubling. That was a horrible situation,” Brown said.
Brown said his agency has also opened an internal investigation of an officer shown on video pushing an older man to the ground.
Mendenhall enacted the curfew - which lasts until 6 a.m. Monday - and Gov. Gary Herbert activated the Utah National Guard after thousands converged on the downtown area Saturday afternoon.
The extent and cost of the damage was still being assessed on Sunday, Mendenhall said. The Democratic former city councilwoman who is in her first year as mayor said the protests illustrate deeper societal issues that must be addressed.
“We will recover,” Mendenhall said, “and we will recover coming together to rebuild policies and to address, unearth, unpack the systemic racism that exists in this city and in every city across this nation.”
Mendenhall and Brown said they will look into any complaints about how officers handled the situation, but called for an end to violence and destruction.
“We cannot have meaningful conversations in a riotous situation,” Brown said.
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