SALT LAKE CITY — Kenosha, Wisconsin, might be 1,500 miles away, but it was at the center of a Salt Lake City protest Monday night as a crowd of roughly 100 people marched down State Street, chanting “Justice for Jacob Blake.”
“Many of us have never even heard of Kenosha,” Rania Ahmed said to the crowd. “But Kenosha is America. And Jacob Blake is all of us.”
After attempting to arrest him on Aug. 23, police in the Wisconsin city shot Blake seven times in the back as he tried to get into his car.
Just hours later, the 29-year-old father of six, who was rendered paralyzed from the waist down according to his family, was thrust into the center of the contentious debate on American policing. Protests erupted, professional sports screeched to a halt, and Jacob Blake quickly became a household name.
On an unusually chilly August afternoon, protesters gathered outside the Utah Capitol, chanting “No justice, no peace,” and “Black lives matter,” while sharing personal stories of police brutality. Several parents took the megaphone and sympathized with Blake.
“Imagine his kids, crying out in the car, not knowing what to do,” said an emotional Devonte Powell. “Me as a father, I wonder if I’ll ever get to do all the things that fathers do with their children. ... We live in a world where any Black man, we step outside and we don’t know if we’re going to return.”
Critics of the recent protests have been quick to point out Blake’s criminal history, which according to the BBC includes an arrest warrant for charges of domestic abuse, sexual assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct — and that Blake had a knife in his car when he was shot.
That argument was the subject of heavy criticism Monday.
“The first thing racist people want to do when one of us gets shot or killed is they want to look up and see what criminal past we had,” said Tyeise Bellamy. “It’s a past for a reason.”
“All of America saw that video,” Powell told the Deseret News. “An officer pulled his shirt and shot him seven times in the back. For what reason? What was the threat?”
Monday’s protest took a tense turn less than an hour after it started as three armed men, apparently counterprotesters with the group Civilized Awakening, approached the crowd. One of the men, James Sullivan, began livestreaming a video to the group’s Facebook page as a wall of protesters formed in front of him.
“You guys are insane,” Sullivan said. “This is the Democratic Party. Look at these guys.”
While the protesters and counterprotesters argued, Stan Penrod, an 82-year-old Marine participating in the rally for Blake, told the Deseret News he wants to see more dialogue — not diatribe.
“I don’t agree with arguments. Let’s talk, and try to understand each other. Let’s respect differences of opinion,” Penrod said. “I was in college during the 60s, so I know all about protests.”
“I have nothing against the police by any means, I have a couple of sons that are officers,” said Penrod, who came to the protest Monday with his granddaughter by his side. “I understand what the Black community has gone through. Two hundred years is a long time to get justice.”