Protesters call for further police reform, defunding in protest at Utah Capitol
Posted On June 15, 2020
Protestors demonstrate at the Capitol Monday, June 15, 2020. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Calls to defund the police rand loud in Salt Lake City Monday evening as hundreds of people gathered on Capitol Hill in what is now nearly two weeks of daily protests in the Beehive State.
“There is no reforming this military,” said Will Kemner, an organizer and founding member of the Salt Lake Equal Rights Movement. “We cannot just polish it up and make it new. We need to completely get rid of it.”
Kemner faced the Capitol while he spoke, the crowd nearly doubling in size over the course of 20 minutes. Protesters cheered as passing cars honked, and speakers took turns on the microphone listing off demands and sharing stories of interactions with police. Cheers of “no justice, no peace” and “no racist police” intermittently swept the crowd.
“It’s a scary thing being a black person, it’s a scary thing being a black woman,” Trinidad Allred told the crowd. “But the first step to getting rid of that fear is to dismantle the police.”
The nationwide movement to defund the police has gained traction in the weeks following the death of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
In Salt Lake City, “defund the guns,” “abolish the police” and other iterations of the movement have been the focal point of recent protests, although there has been some disagreement about what exactly that would look like. However, on Monday the movement seemed more concrete as Kemner listed off eight specific demands his organization wants to see.
Kemner wants to reevaluate every prison sentence in Utah, starting with nonviolent crimes, have three judges on every case instead of just one, separate the accused from judges and jury with a physical barrier to conceal their race, have different first responders based on the 911 call, and make all police complaints investigated by community elected officials who aren’t affiliated with the police department.
Kemner also said he wants to have city officials livestream officers’ body camera footage to a public domain and require officers to keep their gun in the car with their audio automatically turned on when it leaves the holster.
“These are just the first couple steps,” Kemner said. “These demands are just the starting point, like pushing the snowball off the hill to get things rolling.”
On Thursday, the “defund the police” movement reached the Salt Lake City Council as hundreds called in during a recent meeting, some demanding a $30 million cut from the city’s police budget. Although there was no “magic $30 million budget cut” during the meeting, as Council Chairman Chris Wharton put it, the concerns did not fall on deaf ears. The council made an informal vote to allocate over $700,000 to provide officers with body cameras, data, Tasers and technology that would automatically activate the body cameras. On Tuesday, the council will finalize the budget.
“There is a City Council that hears what you’re saying and is committed to moving forward very seriously on this topic,” Wharton said during the meeting.
Although the vote was a far cry from defunding the city’s department, Kemner said it was a good start.
“The problem is so massive that any step is a big step,” he said. “Investing in body cameras that are always on, where you have to have them on you at all times, that’s a start.”