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‘Heartbroken’ by protests, South Salt Lake mayor wants to create civilian review board

South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood speaks during a Homeless Coordinating Committee meeting in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 10, 2017.
South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood
Alex Goodlett, Deseret News

SOUTH SALT LAKE — South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood is kick-starting talks to create a civilian review board for her city’s police department — and she’s confident there is enough support to make it a reality.

“It will absolutely happen,” Wood told the Deseret News.

Wood, in a lengthy Facebook post this week, said she was “horrified by the murder of George Floyd and the injustice faced by so many people in our country.”

“I am heartbroken by the pain it has stirred up and the divide it has widened between citizens and law enforcement,” she wrote.

South Salt Lake — a smaller city just south of Utah’s capital, where protests have persisted daily this week as groups call for an end to police brutality and systematic racism — is known as one of Utah’s most diverse cities, with nearly half of residents who come from other countries representing a “variety of cultures, races, incomes and experiences,” Wood said.

Wood said there haven’t been protests in South Salt Lake, but she’s been watching with sadness the unrest in Salt Lake City, where thousands have taken to the streets to demand action against police brutality nationwide and in Utah.

The mayor said she’s “worked hard to create a community of inclusion” for all residents, and she praised the South Salt Lake Police Department for fostering relationships “built on trust and respect” through programs like Bowl with a Cop, Police Athletic/Activities League and the Business and Neighborhood Watch.

But, the mayor said, “We need to do more.”

“I want to listen,” Wood said. “I want to hear what people’s experiences are. I want to find solutions.”

The protests over the last week have “brought to the forefront the heartbreak and suffering that too many of our friends and neighbors experience,” the mayor wrote. “It is a cry for help, for empathy, for respect. I am putting out a call to action for all city leaders, employees and residents to listen deeply, and to change.”

So next week, Wood said she’ll be meeting with South Salt Lake Police Chief Jack Carruth, City Council Chairwoman Sharla Bynum, and Councilwoman Natalie Pinkney to discuss current city practices, including anti-bias and de-escalation training the city’s police department already receives.

“We have excellent protocols in place, and I’m proud to lead a public safety team that honors diversity,” the mayor said, calling South Salt Lake police “one of the best police departments” in the state. “I want to make sure our reputation for sensitivity and respect for all our residents is earned, not taken for granted.”

The mayor said she’s “supportive” of creating a South Salt Lake citizen review board, a board to hold police officers accountable and craft a police policy “reviewed through a community-based lens of diversity and inclusion.”

“We will implement necessary changes to community action surrounding systemic issues of racial, gender and other inequality and bias,” Wood said. “We will have no tolerance for racial or any other injustice in South Salt Lake. Everyone deserves to feel safe no matter the color of your skin, your gender or identity. Our work will not be finished until we all feel safe.”

Asked why South Salt Lake hasn’t had a civilian review board in the past, Wood said the city already has strong policies in place and a zero-tolerance culture against excessive use of force and racism — but there’s no excuse for South Salt Lake to not have a civilian review board.

“If I did not feel like that was already happening and there was care and concern put around those issues, then I think (a civilian review board) would have been in place years ago,” Wood said. “There is no reason to not have one at this point. I want to be very transparent, and I think it’s just an opportunity to get everybody’s perspective, sit down and have a conversation, and that’s where true change comes from.”

Wood said she knows “discrimination and intolerance are found in many other aspects of daily life, even embedded in our own government and other institutions.” She urged residents to “speak up, honestly and from the heart, about what you experience and witness.”

“Until we have a deep understanding, we cannot begin to address concerns,” she said.

Bynum, whose husband and 16-year-old son are black, read a poem written by her son in Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.

“Don’t let anyone see for you, look with your own eyes, and realize, until there is justice, there will not be peace,” she read from the final lines of his poem.

Bynum told the Deseret News she’s “personally blessed to have immediate family members who are black.” In her home, she said the family has “frequent meaningful discussions and really try to listen to all perspectives. We are all better off because of this.”

Bynum said she supports establishing a South Salt Lake civilian review board.

“It’s important that our residents have a voice when it comes to public safety.

Bynum said her “heart is full of sadness and anxiety” over the recent protests, and she “longs to make this a better world, especially for my children.”

“I am open minded and hopeful that we will be able to make meaningful change to help heal our community,” she said.