SALT LAKE CITY — When Don Gamble arrived in Salt Lake City and saw the profanity against police stretched across the State of Utah sign on the Capitol grounds, it made him emotional.
“It shames me, totally shames me. It’s a shame that people have to express themselves like this. I think there’s other alternatives,” Gamble said.
The former corrections officer from Kaysville drove down to the state Capitol early Sunday and joined other volunteers scrubbing off the spray paint in the morning heat.
“It’s my taxpayer money that pays for this stuff, and I feel it’s my obligation to do what’s right, not what’s wrong,” Gamble said.
He was just one of several groups downtown finding ways to help undo the damage inflicted on public sites when a thousand protesters the night before marched against police brutality and for justice in the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police.
After spending the morning downtown with her team, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said: “Things look much-improved, and we’re in a relatively good place.”
But she said it could take several days for the city to fully recover.
“I’ve been overwhelmed really by an outpouring of love for our city from residents, fellow cities, and community members and organizations who have offered to volunteer to help clean up and recover, and people who have come down even in the middle of the night, filled dozens of garbage bags, and are helping to put our city back together. I want to thank you for that,” Mendenhall said during a news teleconference early Sunday afternoon.
“We originally just came to clean up some garbage, but we came up here and saw the spray paint and just decided to do it,” Jason Terry said as he and his family worked to clean a traffic light post at the intersection of North Temple and State Street.
Terry, his wife, and their daughters, ages 15, 13, and 10, also scrubbed profanity on the rock sign of the Brigham Young Memorial Park.
He said they focused on profanity and didn’t clean off Black Lives Matter signs.
At the Capitol, a few dozen volunteers had been working to remove the extensive graffiti since 8 a.m., said Allyson Gamble, Capitol Preservation Board executive director and no relation to Don Gamble. Professional masons who understand the pores of the granite on the Capitol’s columns worked through the night to completely clean them, she said.
Most of the vandalism involved spray paint, traditional paint and litter around the grounds, she said, expressing gratitude that more serious damage wasn’t done. But the paint required strong scrubbing to remove. By about 10:30 a.m., the graffiti appeared just slightly fainter in color.
“Because we’ve never had this issue before, we don’t know how long it’s going to take,” Gamble said of the cleanup. Many professionals had called offering their help.
“They said that they saw it on TV and they could not sleep. They didn’t want to do anything else, they just wanted to come here and help because we’re Utahns and we band together,” she said. More volunteers were expected to show up throughout the day.
As the person who oversees daily operations of the Capitol, she said the damage to the building was unprecedented.
“It was shocking, and it really took me by surprise how much there was. And it made me very sad, because this building stands for all people, and all people come and have free speech rights. And we look forward to all different types of thought processes, and nobody’s ever done this. We’ve always had incredible free speech activities,” according to Gamble.
“That’s not who we are as Utahns. We can agree to disagree, but this building stands for everybody’s rights.”
After viewing the damage to downtown and at the Capitol, Gov. Gary Herbert in a statement called Saturday’s rioting “beyond the pale.”
“I was greatly troubled to see the vandalism carried out on the Capitol building, public spaces and private property in our downtown area. I am grateful for the support of law enforcement officers from across the state, and for the support of our National Guard, in restoring law and order to our capital city. These men and women exercised patience and professionalism in de-escalating the situation last night.
“Today, as I visited the state Capitol, I saw hope and a spirit of cooperation return as I visited with those who came to clean the building and its grounds. I believe that Utahns are empathetic. I believe that we care about each other. I believe that we will emerge from this difficult week more united and increasingly invested in promoting a just world for all.
“I am encouraged to see calm return to Salt Lake City and expect all to comply with the curfew put in place by Mayor Erin Mendenhall,” Herbert said.
The cleanup at the Capitol was expected to last all day Sunday. Meanwhile, Liberty Square appeared almost back to normal by about 11 a.m. An officer there said it took about one hour for crews to clean the area, which had been hit hard during the protests with graffiti and trash the day before.
But some remnants of the previous night’s chaos remained. A charred stack of electric scooters sat on the sidewalk, just yards away from where a police patrol car had been burned.
Rey Dia and Breonah Anderson drove from Ogden to deliver water bottles and other drinks to police officers and those cleaning up.
“Just to show officers that we still support them, we’ve got their back, and we appreciate everything that they do for us,” Dia said.
Anderson said seeing violence break out during the protest caused her “so much anger. Our men and women put their lives on the line. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a few bad apples, but you can’t go anywhere that there’s not a bad apple. Every fruitful tree has that bad apple. It’s so angering.”
As a member of the National Guard, Anderson said the incident felt personal.
“They serve right next to us. And if anything came down to it, you’re willing to put on that uniform and do anything, because you know what, they’re people, too. They’re not disposable, they’re human, and they honestly sacrifice a lot to come out here and put their life on the line, like the officer out in Ogden,” she said.
“It’s really a wake-up call. People really need to be more respectful. We’re all human,” Anderson said.
While many may want to help clean up spray paint, graffiti removal teams are there to do it. Officials don’t want hundreds or thousands of people in the area outside, though clean-up activities are exempt from the curfew, Mendenhall said.
She asked residents to help in the recovery effort by supporting downtown businesses.
“Look at getting some food tonight, takeout from somewhere in our downtown court. Even better yet, support our minority-owned businesses, our diverse-owned businesses in Salt Lake City. These are ways that we can begin to show our support,” Mendenhall said.
“But what we really need from the community and from all the hearts that are breaking and trying to heal right now along with ours is a commitment to the sustained, long-term change that this came about regarding — that the peaceful protests were protesting for, and that we stand in solidarity with — to issue change that is lasting on the systemic racism that continues to oppress even residents of Salt Lake City, probably every city across this nation,” the mayor said.
She also asked residents statewide to “render acts of kindness,” and show “grace and generosity and love that is characteristic as who we are as a people.”
“Let’s recover from this and begin to heal from this, and create the circumstances for long and lasting change by giving kindness and grace to one another.”