SALT LAKE CITY — When Dwayne Madry’s cousin Elijah Smith was shot and killed by police in West Valley City about two years ago following a shoplifting incident, it traumatized his family.
“Because we’ve encountered police before, and we’ve been taught to assume certain protocols as being black people. And Elijah was young, and although he had been educated, those things didn’t kick in. He panicked and ran because he was scared and, as a result, he was killed,” Madry said.
When Madry learns another black person has been killed by police, “I’m like, ‘That could be me. That could be any one of my friends. It just takes it to a different level,’” he told the Deseret News Sunday evening as he and about 100 others joined in a march and vigil in Salt Lake City.
The event was organized by a group of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to remember black lives lost to police brutality and call for an end to racism.
If he could tell others one thing to help them understand his experience, Madry said he would ask them to “close their eyes and picture themselves in the shoes of someone black. And if they can understand that, then they’ll have true empathy for what it really feels like.”
Many families with young children participated in the peaceful march, which took place after about two weeks of almost-daily protests in Utah since the killing by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The group met at the church meetinghouse at the University of Utah and trekked 4 miles to the state Capitol. Many carried signs featuring slogans including, “Black Lives Matter 2 Jesus,” “Mourn with those that mourn” and “I’ll walk with you.”
As the group crested the hill leading to the Capitol, they chanted “Black Lives Matter” and the names of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others recently killed by police.
Madelaine Lamah said she organized the event to help honor victims, but hoped those who attended would learn something and be motivated to work to make change themselves.
In Utah, she said, one of the biggest issues she’s seen is racism that occurs through ignorance rather than hatred.
“It’d be cool to have time to educate people and help them understand these issues. They need to understand the past so they can understand what’s happening right now, and have the desire to change in the future,” Lamah said.
Gathered on the grass, the protesters listened to a prayer for an end to racism, lit candles and took a knee for 8 minutes in honor of those who have died.
Some at the march said they simply wanted to add their voices to the movement, some for the first time.
“I think it’s important to show people in action and deed what we feel in our hearts, and I thought this was a great way to do that. . . . It seemed like a peaceful way to show our actions, so I’m grateful for this opportunity,” Heidi Hill said.
She said she wants people to know “that LDS people care, and LDS people believe that black lives matter.”
While she hadn’t participated in any of the earlier northern Utah protests, she ran in a southern Utah race against racism organized by her brother, who is Nigerian.
Hill became tearful as she explained, “I’m just really sad that it had to take so much for this many people to finally be standing out. I’m glad that people are, but I’m sad for myself that it took us this much heartache for us to actually say something and stand up. I hope that this doesn’t stop. I hope that it’s not just a one-time thing.”
“This week I feel like I haven’t been doing enough to speak out against racism and systemic racism. ... I do hope that people realize that black lives do matter, that there is white privilege, that there is systemic racism, that we need changes. This is the time for change. A lot of things need to change,” Shanae Tate said.
Elisabeth Westwood, of the advocacy group Latter-day Saints in Action, said she wants to “make members more aware of the biases that we may have or may not realize that we’re doing.”
“I think it is important for members of the church to stand up against injustice in the world,” Westwood said.