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Hope replaces anger: Utah leaders, advocates celebrate verdict in George Floyd’s death

Ma Black marches with others past the Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the killing of George Floyd on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
Ma Black marches with others past the Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the killing of George Floyd on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The chants and signs were the same, but a sense of renewed hope appeared to replace anger at a protest Tuesday evening in Salt Lake City soon after a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murder in the death of George Floyd.

“It knocks the wind out of you. I’ve never seen justice before today, and that was a long road to see it,” said Lex Scott, founder of the Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter as a rally formed at the Salt Lake City Department of Public Safety.

Some carried signs that said “Black Lives Matter” or showed the faces of those who recently died at the hands of police, and chants like “Say their names” rang out. A young Black family in a car led the group as it marched peacefully downtown past the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and to 800 South, where murals of Floyd and others were painted last year. Two children in the car held photos of Floyd as, smiling, they watched the rally through their windows. Police on the sidelines helped block the streets but kept away from the protesters’ path.

Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, cheers and celebrates during a rally in front of the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the killing of George Floyd on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, cheers and celebrates during a rally in front of the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the killing of George Floyd on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

While Scott said she’s happy for Floyd’s family, she added, “I feel like we have a mixture of sadness and of happiness, just for the simple fact that we shouldn’t have to celebrate a murderer being convicted of murder. It shouldn’t be that rare for a police officer who murders someone to be convicted of murder. So it’s just mixed emotions, and I think today will be a healing night. I think it will be just productive venting and a community gathering of people who are celebrating and mourning.”

Scott said she believes if Floyd had been killed in Salt Lake City “we would not have seen justice.” More work remains to be done, despite the victory marked Tuesday for those who have been calling for change, she said.

“I believe we need the Justice in Policing Act to pass in Washington, and we also need to push for police reforms in each state, police accountability and transparency. I believe that the whole movement can’t be based on the results of one case. We have to still keep fighting,” Scott said.

Protesters are used to gathering “out of anger. And we’re not protesting out of anger tonight, we’re celebrating,” she said.

“I’ve literally had anxiety all day, so just the fact that it came out the way it’s supposed to, I’m going to be able to take that deep breath tonight, so that’s relieving for me and my community, I think,” said Rae Duckworth, cousin of Bobby Ray Duckworth, who was shot and killed by police in Wellington, Carbon County, as they responded to a mental health call in 2019.

A tear streams down Rae Duckworth’s cheek as she speaks during a rally in front of the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the killing of George Floyd on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
A tear streams down Rae Duckworth’s cheek as she speaks during a rally in front of the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the killing of George Floyd on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

She said she hopes the conviction will “set the precedent” for similar cases.

“I’m overwhelmed with love and joy, but a very heavy heart and sadness. We’re facing the right direction, and that means it could save a life. That could save my daughter, that could save my brother. So I’m thankful for that,” Duckworth said.

University of Utah student Tony Shade, carrying a Black Lives Matter flag and sporting a “Justice for Breonna” face mask, arrived for the rally an hour before it started to “align” himself, he said.

“This is what I do pretty much for a living: a future Black social worker,” Shade said. “I care about the issues, this is just what I do.”

Like Scott, he said work is still needed.

“Yeah, we can celebrate these small victories, but Breonna Taylor still didn’t get her justice, and so many others didn’t. And so many other people who haven’t gone viral or haven’t been out to the mass media,” Shade said.

On Monday, Jeanetta Williams, the president of the NCAAP Salt Lake Branch, called for “calm” at the announcement of the verdict. Tuesday’s rally in Utah’s capital city remained peaceful.

Salt Lake leaders speak out

Salt Lake City leaders and members of the city’s citizen panel exploring police reforms gathered at the International Peace Gardens on the city’s west side Tuesday afternoon to express support for the guilty verdicts and honor Floyd’s memory.

“This is a powerful moment for many of us that have been working for social justice — all of my life — just to be able to say, ‘Black lives matter,’ and ‘No one can kill Black people with impunity. There must be justice,’” said Darlene McDonald, a member of the city’s Commission on Racial Equity in Policing. “We have a lot of work and a long way yet to go, but we’re going to hold on to today; we’re going to hold onto this moment and rejoice in it.”

Chauvin has been accused of ignoring another officer who expressed concerns about Floyd last May as he lay handcuffed on the ground, pleading that he could not breathe as Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes. Floyd, a Black man, had been arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a store. His death ignited fury throughout the country and spurred a summer of protests against police brutality.

Ashley Cleveland visits the George Floyd mural on the corner of 800 South and 300 West in Salt Lake City on on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. A jury on Tuesday found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in Floyd’s death.
Ashley Cleveland visits the George Floyd mural on the corner of 800 South and 300 West in Salt Lake City on on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. A jury on Tuesday found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in Floyd’s death.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

‘Let’s do our part to heal our nation’

Soon after the verdict was read, state Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, shared a one-word tweet that said simply: “Justice.”

“Justice was served, but let’s remember the life that was lost. This is justice that no family should ever have to await. Let’s all do our part to improve and heal our shared nation. #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd,” tweeted former Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, who is Black.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said that she was “pleased” with the results and called for more accountability in policing.

“It’s clear that George Floyd was murdered without remorse,” Wilson said in a statement. “Our nation has skilled and committed police officers, but also those who operate in their roles with bias and without regard for human life and liberty. ... As a community, I ask that we work collaboratively to address systemic issues regarding race and justice as we seek to reshape our institutions in order to promote accountability and justice.”

“He is guilty. Glad the jury confirmed what we all knew the whole time,” Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, tweeted.

The Utah Department of Public Safety promised in a statement soon after the conviction that it is “committed to future reform efforts, including transparency, training, accountability, punishment of officer misconduct, community engagement, fairness, and social justice.”

Utah Jazz owner and Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith said in a statement: “My thoughts are with George Floyd’s family following his tragic murder and today’s verdict. We must all actively work toward meaningful, systemic change.”

The Utah Jazz organization also said the team members’ “hearts are with the George Floyd family today.”

“His murder — among too many examples of senseless killings, systemic racism and injustice — has only heightened the urgency to peacefully and emphatically work toward creating sustainable and meaningful change. The work ahead of us remains clear, our resolve is strong, and our actions must be even stronger,” the team said. Other figures in the sports world, including athletes and league officials, also spoke out Tuesday about the verdict.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said in a statement: “Today, America’s judicial system worked and justice was done for George Floyd. The verdict is an important step in the right direction, but there is still work to be done. I pray that all Americans build on this progress in creating a better tomorrow for everyone.”

The Utah Democratic Party said the verdict represents “accountability” but not yet “justice.”

“Our work as a party and as members of the greater movement for Black lives continues, and our work to dismantle the systems that allowed for this tragedy to occur in the first place, must not stop today,” the party said in a statement.

Democratic party officials promised to “demand the changes that must be made, in solidarity with all the victims of police violence and brutality in this nation and our state.”

The University of Utah shared a message about the trial from interim President Michael Good and Dan Reed, senior vice president of academic affairs, that urged “everyone on our campus to be mindful of the impact these events may have on our students, on one another, and on ourselves.”

School leaders pointed students and staff members to counseling and support services if needed “leading up to and following the jury decision in the Chauvin case.”

“The University of Utah stands with those who call for social justice and equity. We are committed to actions and research aimed at ending hatred and systemic racism. We aspire to be a community that fosters safety, inclusivity, and equity,” university officials said in the statement.

Contributing: Annie Knox, KSL.com; Ashley Fredde, KSL.com

Rob Hall and Misti Western light candles in front of a mural of George Floyd in Salt Lake City.
Rob Hall and Misti Western light candles in front of a mural of George Floyd in Salt Lake City after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the killing of Floyd on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News