SALT LAKE CITY — A crowd nearing 500 people marched down State Street in Salt Lake City Monday evening, the latest episode in nearly a week of protests both nationwide and across the Beehive State.
The demonstrations have decried police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal in Salt Lake City.
The crowd chanted “This is what democracy looks like” and “black lives matter,” before kneeling for several minutes at each intersection, blocking traffic both ways. A caravan of honking cars followed, with passengers leaning out the window waving signs and holding their fists in the air.
The crowd erupted as a particularly enthusiastic Utah Transit Authority bus driver passed, laying on the horn and pumping her fist through the window.
Police escorted the crowd as they walked through downtown Salt Lake, blocking off each intersection as the protesters paused in silence. But the police presence was a far cry from earlier protests, and the Humvees and riot gear that accompanied demonstrators just a week ago were absent Monday night.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but I know what I’ve seen and know what I’ve felt,” said Antonio Cruz-Martinez, who described being thrown against a locker and called a racial slur by his high school resource officer when he was 14. “I lived, but a lot of people in that situation don’t.”
Cruz-Martinez came down from Ogden on Monday night to protest what he calls “a corrupt government that lets its racist police run amuck.” As he spoke, he handed out masks to protesters.
The protest started at about 6 p.m. when roughly 40 protesters gathered in the rain at Washington Square. The weekend’s dreary weather carried over into Monday, and many held signs above their heads in an attempt to stay dry, chanting and sharing stories with the Matheson Courthouse looming in the background. The initial crowd remained relatively small compared to recent protests, some of which drew thousands of people.
“My color is not a threat, your color is not a threat. and I want you all to remember those names that the police and government won’t even mention through the news,” said Meletupou Vaka. “We just want to educate the people of Salt Lake, the people of Idaho, where they think that nothing happens here in this little bubble, we want to educate them about what is really going on.”
At about 6:30 p.m. the entire crowd laid down in the wet grass in Washington Square for 8 and a half minutes — the same amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
The focal point of Monday’s protest was Breonna Taylor, an EMT from Louisville, Kentucky, who was fatally shot eight times in her bed after police entered her apartment in March. Taylor would’ve turned 27 last Friday.
Many protesters brought decorated pillowcases to Monday’s rally in lieu of signs, an effort Katie Acheson, one of the event’s organizers, said was a symbolic gesture to honor the life and death of Taylor. Some called for the officers responsible for Taylor’s death to be charged with murder.
“These pillows are for Breonna. She was sleeping in her bed, safe,” Acheson yelled through a megaphone. “I lay in my bed with my nice comfortable pillow every single night, and not one night have I ever thought to myself, somebody might break into my house and shoot the hell out of me, and it’s going to be a cop.”
Protesters also voiced their anger over the death of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, who died after being shot roughly 20 times in the back as he fled from Salt Lake police officers in May.
Palacios was holding a gun when he was shot. But many are calling the use of force excessive.
“Do not stop until Salt Lake City takes some responsibility for young men like Bernardo, who died for nothing,” Acheson said. “Why did he run? I don’t know, maybe because the (expletive) cops were trying to shoot him.”
“Justice for Bernardo” signs were abundant Monday night, a sentiment that protesters periodically shouted out over the microphone.