SALT LAKE CITY — With loud chants of “No justice, no peace,” “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “I can’t breathe” and “Black lives matter,” a large crowd rallied on Washington Square in an unusual morning rally Wednesday in downtown Salt Lake City calling for an end to police brutality.
Despite starting at 6 a.m., the rally organized by the Black Lives Matter’s northern Utah chapter drew an estimated several hundred to possibly 2,000 people of all ages and races.
“I know it’s early. But our fight for survival doesn’t have a schedule. We are on a battle to secure our survival, and we don’t have the luxury to take a break,” activist Ma Black told the crowd. “Racism has been working nonstop. It’s never taken a break or time off or left. It has been working overtime for generations and generations for over 400 years.”
Darlene McDonald, chairwoman of the Utah Black Roundtable and a board member for Alliance for a Better Utah, said she expected to show up and speak to just a handful of people.
“I pulled up and it was lines and lines and lines of people walking here at 6 in the morning because Black Lives Matter,” she said to cheers and applause.
For nearly two hours, speakers talked about the injustices committed on black men and women such as George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. They called for police departments to be reformed, systemic racism to end and equal rights for all people of color.
“We are not the illegals. We are not the criminals. We are not the drug dealers. We are not the thugs. We are human beings. We deserve the same equal rights as everyone here. We deserve freedom, respect, dignity. But most of all, we deserve to feel safe,” said Black, who is Hispanic.
Three of Utah’s six minority members of the Utah Legislature also spoke the crowd, Rep. Karen Kwan, Rep. Sandra Hollins, and Rep. Angela Romero.
“We are on the Hill fighting every day to make sure your voices are heard,” said Hollins, the first African American woman elected to the Utah Legislature.
“Today, our community and communities across this nation and locally are in pain. We are experiencing the pent up pain unleashed by the murder of Mr. Floyd in broad daylight, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Abery and many, many others. We are experiencing the pain of social and economic injustices further exposed by the (COVID-19) crisis. But the pain and suffering we have seen has been experienced on a daily basis in everyday life by communities of color,” Hollins said.
“I am worn down. People are physically and economically exhausted. They are outraged by the injustice of another black man killed by the police. People want to be heard.”
Hollins and other speakers encouraged the group to keep up their protests, but to also vote. Voter registration tables were set up around the Salt Lake City-County Building on Washington Square Wednesday.
“Many people say the youth are our future. I want to challenge that statement and say that our youth are our here and now,” Hollins said.
McDonald concurred, “When we are finishing kneeling, and we will kneel, when this rally is over, when we are done marching, we have to go vote.”
Lex Scott, founder of the Utah Black Lives Matter chapter, said she got the idea of holding an early morning rally from the Pacific Islander rally at the Salt Lake City-County Building a week earlier. On Wednesday, Verona Sagato Mauga, chairwoman of the Utah Asian/Pacific Island Democratic Caucus, stood in solidarity with Scott and Black Lives Matter.
“Being silent is no longer an option. And the coward who took George Floyd’s life would not be in jail right now had it not been for the protesters,” she told the group. “If we want justice, if we want equality and equity, if we are going to dismantle systemic racism in America, it is imperative that we vote, that we make our voices heard.”
Some in the crowd also held signs calling for justice in the fatal shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, 22, who was shot more than. 20 times in the back by two Salt Lake police officers. And some brought up Darrien Hunt, a 22-year-old black man from a mixed race family who was shot and killed by police in Saratoga Springs in 2014while running away from officers while carrying a 3-foot katana sword.
“For me, that’s when it all started,” said Josianne Petit, who is now a community activist. “What has impacted me, seriously, was Darrien Hunt. I sat there terrified. … I thought his proximity to whiteness would save him.”
In 2019, Petit organized a protest on the lawn of the Woods Cross Police Department after an officer pulled a gun on a 10-year-old black boy, DJ Hrubes.
“The only reason all those people showed up for DJ was because no one showed up for Darrien,” she said.
Petit further talked about Jeremy Sorensen, 26, who was shot and killed in Utah County in 2019by a man who was driving by and saw Sorensen fighting with another person.
Also in the crowd on Wednesday was the widow of James Barker, a white man shot and killed by police in the Avenues, who Scott said has been supporting Black Lives Matter for several years.
Scott had African American youth come up front to show the crowd what they were fighting for. Among them was the boy who became trapped when a school bus driver closed the doors on him — trapping him by his backpack — and driving off.
Peitit said for everyone who in the past week has said that Utah isn't Minneapolis, “Stop acting like this is not a problem here in Utah, let’s talk about Utah.”
As she has done before, Scott again pushed for peaceful protest and action, not violence.
“If you came here to be violent or destroy property, we would like you to leave. That has never been what this movement is about. This movement has never been about violence, it has always been about fighting against police violence for black lives,” she told the crowd. “This movement is about loving black pepole, about building black people and about fighting white violence.”
Scott said Hollins and Romero are helping Black Lives Matter create a police reform bill to introduce to the full Legislature. Until then, she and others reemphasized to the group to vote, and to not let off the gas pedal with their protests because it is bringing about change.
“Last week, we were heard. We changed Utah,” said Kwan.
Hollins said social media has become the weapon of choice for America’s young adults and she encouraged the group to never back down.
“But we cannot just sit behind a computer and rely on hashtags. We, and especially young people, have to take the steps to get involved and we must move forward, we must speak out and we must not just stay behind the realms and confinements of social media. But we must get into environments where we make a difference,” she said.
“Activism is also about voting, and not just protest. We have to move beyond the protest. Protest is good, it’s wonderful. But let’s look, what difference can we make beyond the protest? Don’t quit if things don’t change immediately. Remember, things don’t change overnight. Do not stand on this front line with us if you’re not in this for the long haul.
“Do not fight hate with hate. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”