PROVO — Troubled by the rumors stemming from a recent protest that became violent in downtown Provo in late June, city officials are trying to stop the spread of misinformation while preparing for future protests.
“Police community relationships are too important to Provo’s public safety and quality of life to allow false rumors and misinformation to undermine community goodwill and trust built up over decades,” said Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi.
To address this concern, city officials launched a website called Provo City Rumor StopThursday morning tasked with dispelling misinformation.
The website addresses a number of rumors, including one claiming Kaufusi issued a stand-down order to police during the June 29 protest to call for justice for the victims of police brutality.
That’s particularly troublesome to Provo Police Chief Rich Ferguson.
“That’s absolutely false,” he said. “Flat-out lie. It did not happen.”
It also responds to the rumor that the Provo Police Department requested assistance from a Second Amendment group two nights after the June 29 incident when two dueling protests faced off in another downtown demonstration.
Ferguson said officers did not request any help from outside groups and that Utah Citizen’s Alarm, the group that showed up with firearms and tactical gear as a counterprotest, came on their own.
Ferguson said he’s heard additional rumors of “bad officers” being cycled through the United States, which doesn’t happen in Provo, according to Ferguson.
“I’m not saying it doesn’t happen in the nation, but we won’t take officers who are in disciplinary processes in their home agency,” he said.
The website also addresses the programs and policies that are in place to train Provo police on social justice sensitivity and the proper use of force, saying officers participate in “regular training.”
Kaufusi said she hopes the website will be able to address those damaging rumors that “do nothing but build wedges.”
While initially peaceful, the demonstration June 29 became violent when a man fired a gun into a car that was attempting to turn onto Center Street. Provo police say some of the protesters began “crowding around the vehicle”and a “male protester ran to the SUV on the passenger side, pointed a handgun at (the) driver and shot one round through the window.” The driver, a 60-year-old Provo resident, was struck by a bullet.
Two people have been charged since the protest.
Ferguson and Kaufusi denounced the violence again in a Facebook Live event Thursday morning that was posted alongside the rumor dispelling website.
“It’s troubled times. There’s no way to sugarcoat this. These protests are unpredictable at times and troubling. And we are not immune. Provo is not immune to this nationwide upheaval that’s going on,” Kaufusi said.
Ferguson said there are ongoing investigations stemming from the June 29 protest and officers “won’t stop” until those who were involved in violence are arrested.
He said Provo police supports the citizens’ right to protest and wants to sit down and have a conversation with protestors as “there’s always room for change and there’s always room for improvement in any organization,” however violence pushes back their ability to engage in those discussions.
“When we come to the table with our partners and we start talking about positive changes that keep this community safe, and then outside sources come into our community with ill intent to do nothing but violence and they bring guns, it’s unacceptable,” Ferguson said. “They want to force the agenda through violence, fear and intimidation, and that is prolonging our ability to sit down at the table because we are focusing on dealing with that element.”
As for future protests, Kaufusi and Ferguson said there are likely to be more.
“The climate in our country right now is changing daily. Provo is a substantial city, so yes, we will continue to have protests here, we are aware of that. Peaceful assembly is a good thing and we welcome that,” Ferguson said. “But when peaceful protest is hijacked by violent individuals then yes, we are prepared for that, too.”