ST. GEORGE — As rallies and protests took place across the nation Saturday in response to the death of George Floyd, the Southern Utah Chapter of Black Lives Matter held a rally at the St. George City Offices.
The rally was followed that evening by a separate protest of around 200 people on St. George Boulevard.
Between 50 and 60 people gathered at the St. George City Offices on 200 East around 10 a.m. to hear from Troy Anderson, founder of the Southern Utah Black Live Matter chapter, and others as well as participate in a “kneel in” along both sides of the street. One of the reasons given for having the rally at the city offices was its proximity to the police station next door.
“We’re all connected, and the more we realize that, the better opportunity we will have of working some real change in this country and in our local community,” Anderson said as he addressed the crowd.
Anderson shared some of his own experiences of harassment and brutality from law enforcement in the past, including an incident in Cleveland, Ohio, where a police officer accused him of stealing a car and had a gun pressed against the back of his head. Another instance involved a Utah Highway Patrol trooper he said pulled a gun on him after he had been pulled over for speeding.
These type of acts are a norm for the black community when it comes to police, Anderson said, adding that police in St. George and the surrounding area also abuse their authority in relation the people of color and it was time to put the area police departments on notice.
“I want to send a message to the St. George, to Washington City, to Ivins, Bloomington, all of these cops – we’re here, we’re sick and tired of you harassing us,” he said. “We’re sick and tired of you pulling us over just to pull us over…We’re tired of it. All people of color are tired of it.”
According to United States’ Census data, those who identify as black or African-American make up less than 1% of St. George’s population, while others who identify as Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander and so on make up a fifth of the city’s overall population.
While expressing his anger over the death of Floyd and a lack of faith that justice would truly be served in the matter – he wants to see the officer responsible for Floyd’s death on death row for it – Anderson said he hopes for a better future than the one he and other people of color of experienced.
To the assembled crowd, he asked them not to be keyboard warriors, but to become involved.
“My message to you is to get involved,” he said. “Learn about the systemic racism, learn what it is and how it works in this country.”
Standing with Anderson was Sydni Makemo, the Southern Utah community outreach fellow for the American Civil Liberties Union. She helped organize Saturday morning’s event and also urged people to get involved and get educated, especially white people who made up the majority of the morning’s crowd.
“The first and most important thing you can do is listen to impacted communities so you can learn better on how to be an ally,” Makemo said.
She also urged people to learn about who is running for political office and vote for those candidates who represent their values while also showing an ability to help marginalized communities if elected. Police accountability and criminal justice reform are issues the candidates need to push, she said.
People also need to reach out to their current lawmakers and tell them the harassment and killing of people of color by the authorities has to stop, Makemo said. However, she warned about potential or perceived acts of violence against local lawmakers from those seeking change, especially since many have their phone numbers and sometimes addresses posted online at Utah.gov and and readily accessible.
“Black Lives Matter does not support violence,” she said. “We don’t instigate that, because that takes away from the message.”
While the gathering at the St. George City Office, and the later protest held at the intersection of 200 East and St. George Boulevard were primarily peaceful – and loud in the latter case – violent riots occurred in Salt Lake City and other large cities across the nation Saturday.
Floyd died on Memorial Day after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes after he stopped moving and pleading for air, leading to protests in cities across the U.S. in the days since. The officer was fired along with three other officers involved, and was subsequently charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Concerning the riots, Anderson said peaceful protests has never had any positive impact when it came to fighting systemic racism.
“What you’re seeing in these neighborhoods – yes there are people coming in that have nothing to do with our cause that are causing problems, like criminals and stuff – it’s just pent up rage. That’s all it really is. And this is how they’re going to get attention.” he said. “Those buildings and stuff that have been burned, those can be replaced, but human lives can’t be replaced.
“This is another black person being killed indiscriminately by law enforcement and it just happened to get caught on tape,” he said. “But this is nothing new in black communities, the way these cops are handling black people.”
The crowd soon moved from the St. George City Office parking lot where they had gathered and lined both sides of 200 East leading up to the St. George Police Department. Rally attendees who were able to kneeled on one knee six feet apart with many holding up signs that read “Black lives matter,” “White silence is violence,” “George Floyd” along with other messages.
The crowd also occasionally chanted “No justice, no peace,” and “Black lives matter” and cheered as cars drove by and honked in support.
St. George Mayor Jon Pike also arrived at the city offices and spoke with Anderson for a few minutes with plans to continue a dialogue soon after.
“It’s great to have a nice turnout here and bring some awareness,” Pike said, adding that while the issue that sparked the rally was miles away, it was important to realize an incident of police brutality can happen anywhere, though he said he hopes it never happens in St. George.
“We need to be mindful as a government, as a police department and as a community to make sure we are the kind of community that’s welcoming and that’s mindful of all people,” Pike said.
While the mayor said he believes the city’s police officers to be well-trained and great examples of law enforcement, he said it is also important to be ever-training and ever-developing and using best practices when it comes to interacting with others. Making sure city government and police are listening to the community is also very important, he said.
“That’s the main thing – communication and making sure if there’s a place we could do better that we listen and get input,” the mayor said. “If there are additional needs the community had additional training we as city officials and employees need to have, I’m all about that and I know the city is as well.”
The crowd gathered at the city offices dispersed around noon, with a number of them returning to particulate in a much larger protest at 5 p.m. that initially took place at the street corner by the Iceberg restaurant, then spread to all corners of the intersection as it gradually grew.
Those interested in learning more about Black Lives Matter can contact Troy Anderson at 435- 319-0985.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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