Salt Lake City ‘streets are quiet and calm’ after day of protests. GoFundMe page set up for those arrested.
The morning after a violent protest erupted in downtown Salt Lake City — leading to smashed windows, scarred buildings and two torched cars, while triggering a curfew that will last until at least 6 a.m. Monday — Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the “streets are quiet and calm.”
“And we are fortunate for that,” she said, especially when compared to a day of unrest across the nation in response to police use of deadly force in Minneapolis and elsewhere.
National Guard forces, who were activated Saturday by Gov. Gary Herbert, were still out in force Sunday, along with police officers.
During a Zoom news conference Sunday morning, Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown lamented the damage done Saturday but assured residents the city will heal, clean up and rebound.
“Exercise grace,” Mendenhall urged residents. “Yesterday was heartbreaking for our city and across the country.”
In Salt Lake City, Brown said law enforcement — from a number of agencies across the Wasatch Front — made 41 arrests. Most of them were for failure to disperse; some were for assaults on officers and curfew violations. His department said 21 officers were treated for injuries, with heat exhaustion being a common ailment as temperatures soared into the upper 80s.
The chief said one officer was struck in the back of the head with a baseball bat. The officer was wearing a helmet, he added, which helped prevent death or a more serious injury.
Brown turned emotional when asked about how his troops were feeling Sunday morning after the tense clashes that lasted well into Sunday night.
“They’re exhausted,” he said, choking back tears. “… But they will never give up.”
Brown said he supports Americans using their constitutional rights to protest, but when violence breaks out, law enforcement must step in. He praised the officers’ overall response, saying he thought they did “an exceptional job.”
Mendenhall reminded residents that the city is committed to operating an ethical and transparent police department.
Mendenhall, Brown and the City Council released a statement Saturday asking all residents to “come together to intentionally address and dismantle the systemic oppression, discrimination, racism, and bigotry that exist in our city.”
“The fear, anger, hurt, and frustration felt by so many in our community is justified, and we cannot allow its source to continue unaddressed.”
The mayor also encouraged protesters and others who witnessed any inappropriate responses from police Saturday to contact the city. She said an “after-action review” of the demonstration and police actions Saturday would be conducted.
In addition, Mendenhall and Brown asked witnesses to step forward who may have witnessed an incident with a man who allegedly wielded a bow and arrow in targeting protesters between City Hall and the Main Library — the area that became the epicenter of Saturday’s unrest.
Some fought back against the man — the protesters flipped his car. It caught on fire and burned in the middle of 400 South as demonstrators gathered around it to take selfies and chant. Police said Saturday that “while we do not have the individual who was brandishing a bow and arrow in custody, we do know who he is. We intend to screen charges against him.”
On Sunday, Brown said the man showing up with this weapon was “troubling.”
“That was a horrible situation,” he added.
The chief suggested that he suspects at least some of the more confrontational demonstrators were “outsiders.”
The Salt Lake City Police Department also tweeted that it was working to identify others who may be charged with vandalism, assault and theft.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money in support of the arrested protesters.
“These funds will be used for bail/bond costs for those arrested, including retroactive reimbursements,” wrote David Newlin, an organizer with Utah Against Police Brutality and a former Salt Lake Tribune staffer. “Any remaining funds will be used to pay for any continuing support of those arrested based on the needs of particular individuals, as well as the continued support of UAPB’s efforts to fight police brutality in Salt Lake and Utah.”
The campaign already had mustered more than $25,000 by 11:30 a.m., exceeding the goal of $15,000.
Mendenhall said the review of the police response will include what transpired in a video where officers are seen pushing an elderly man to the ground. The video was being shared on social media Sunday.
“It’s not OK,” the mayor said in an interview. “It seems to be well outside the protocol and it’s being investigated immediately.”
Mendenhall said she did not speak to any of the protesters. Not doing so was part of the strategic decision to keep city officials away from the demonstrators and give them room to protest until the curfew.
During Sunday morning’s news conference, she said police and city officials made a “calculated decision” not to stop protesters at the start, reasoning that windows could be replaced and graffiti cleaned up. She said preserving lives was the main priority.
She noted that many Utahns have reached out to help tidy up the city after the protest, which brought broken glass and graffiti to the heart of downtown. But she asked residents to hold off, especially with the curfew still in effect.
“Stay home for now,” she said, “and let us get our arms around the cleanup.”
Salt Lake City has a graffiti-abatement program that sends city workers or contractors to remove spray paint and other markings. Mendenhall said it will be used to help clean public and private buildings sullied in Saturday’s protests.
The state planned had volunteers and professional crews out Sunday scrubbing the Utah Capitol, which got pasted in places with graffiti.
Don Gamble, a retired corrections officer who volunteered to help clean up the Capitol under guidance from the professionals, was there Sunday.
“This place was built on my taxes,” he said. “This was an assault on me. It just saddens me people can’t find other ways to make their point.”
Mendenhall emphasized that dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, something she’s constantly worried about, remains a top priority.
She pointed out that Salt Lake City remains in the orange, moderate-risk phase for COVID-19, with intense concentration of cases in ZIP code 84116, which includes downtown.
“Particularly after those last couple of days with very high numbers of positive cases reporting,” Mendenhall said, “that is an ever-present concern for us.”
Social distancing, of course, went virtually unheeded during Saturday’s protest.
Mendenhall said the curfew remains set to expire Monday at 6 a.m., adding that she is leery of lifting it too soon. Officials also said the curfew could be extended, depending on conditions in the city.
Herbert activated 200 soldiers and airmen from the Utah National Guard. That includes about 30 airmen from the Utah Air National Guard’s 151st Security Forces Squadron. Such units typically provide both ground defense and military police.
Maj. Jamie Thomas wrote in an email that all the personnel were there “to assist law enforcement partners to protect life, preserve property, and uphold the rule of law to include the right to peacefully protest.”
She did not offer more specifics on the military’s role during the curfew or otherwise. A National Guard Blackhawk helicopter flew over the Salt Lake City protests for hours Saturday.
The day’s protest, organized by Utah Against Police Brutality, began peacefully with a car caravan. That display, however, later spilled into the streets as more people arrived than could be contained in cars. The protest persisted for the next 11 hours.
Protesters were angry about the death of George Floyd, a black man who died earlier this week after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Other police use of deadly force, including in Utah, also drew rebukes.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, echoing other elected Utah leaders, said she shares the “deep anger felt for the loss of George Floyd’s life.”
“I am saddened,” she said in a statement Sunday, “that we continue to see instances where crime is committed by law enforcement at the expense of people of color.”
But she voiced support for the restraint shown Saturday by Salt Lake City’s officers, and pleaded with protesters to “find peaceful and civil means to express themselves.”