UPDATED: ‘I like to see this kind of passion’; besides minor incidents, downtown demonstration remains peaceful

ST. GEORGE — Hundreds gathered in the heart of downtown St. George on Thursday evening to add to nationwide demonstrations protesting police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death last month. Among those attending and participating in the protest were members of the St. George City Council.

Protesters demonstrate against police brutality in downtown St. George, Utah, June 4, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“We wanted to come down here and show as a community that we’re open,” Councilman Gregg McArthur said as he stood on the street corner of St. George Boulevard and Main Street by Urban Renewal store. “We’re open to hearing what people have to say and what they believe in the community, and that’s what we’re hear to demonstrate.”

Estimates of between 400-800 people gathered at the intersection of St. George Boulevard and Main Street for the Black Lives Matter protest that started at 6:30 p.m. and lasted until around 11 p.m. The protesters, the majority of whom appeared to be in their early 20s, shouted various slogans against police brutality and carried signs noting the same.

“Black lives matter” was chanted repeatedly throughout the protest, as was “No justice, no peace,” “F— the police,” and other chants.

Troy Anderson, the head of the new chapter of Black Lives Matter in Southern Utah, said he was amazed by the turn out and was also pleased to see so many young people in attendance.

Troy Anderson, the head of the new Southern Utah chapter of Black Lives Matter, said he was amazed at the protest’s turnout with is estimated to have had between 400-800 participants, St. George, Utah, June 4, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“This new growth, new blood in the movement, is amazing,” Anderson said. “I’m very happy with the turnout.”

Officers of the St. George Police Department were also out among the protesters and were a constant presence. However, with the exception of having to remove people from the median and dealing with an incident involving protesters’ mounting frustration with a pickup truck blasting exhaust at them as it passed, the protest was largely peaceful.

“The police are doing a great job,” Anderson said. “They’re showing great restraint. I think they understand what’s going on.”

Interim St. George Police Chief Kyle Whitehead, who was also out monitoring the protest, said he was excited to see people expressing their constitutional right to peacefully assemble and make their grievances known.

“I like to see this kind of passion in the community,” Whitehead said, adding he really wasn’t worried about the anti-police sentiment of some of the chants and signs used by protesters. “It’s freedom of speech. I don’t get too worried about it. Overall I feel very supported in this community.”

As the protest continued, two or three trucks with American flags passed through the area and began to agitate the protesters by blasting them with thick, black exhaust – a move also known as “coal rolling.” The occupants of one of the trucks was also making derogatory statements to the protesters as the truck passed by, Whitehead said.

See drone footage of the protest in the video below, courtesy of Ty Empey.

When the truck passed through on St. George Boulevard again, the protesters surrounded it and started shouting at the people inside. The incident didn’t last for too long as police officers quickly descended on the scene and separated the protesters from the offending pickup truck.

Black Lives Matter protesters speak with a St. George Police officer about a truck that had been running up St. George Boulevard and ‘coal rolling’ the crowd. The truck was alleged to have hit a woman while making one of its runs where the core of the protest occurred. The woman appeared the be OK as she was alert and later walking around with the protest, St. George, Utah, June 4, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Protesters claimed one of the trucks also hit a woman during one of its passes by the protest. The woman in question appeared to be OK, as she was alert and walking around with the protest following the alleged incident.

Due to the aggravation caused by the incident and the repeated “coal rolling,” the police closed off access to the intersections and allowed the protesters to gather in the middle of roadway.

As this was done, many started to kneel on one knee. They were joined for a quick moment by Whitehead, who also knelt down and drew cheers from the crowd.

As both a police officer and a citizen, Whitehead said he was “very frustrated and offended” by the actions that led to George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25.

Protesters demonstrate against police brutality in downtown St. George, Utah, June 4, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“I’d hope that would never happen, and to see it happen, especially from a police officer, a trusted member of society who has taken an oath to uphold the law and people’s constitutional rights, I’m just really frustrated and really disappointed,” he said.

Whitehead added that he hoped people who may have issues with the police department would feel comfortable enough to speak with them directly.

Like Anderson, St. George Mayor Jon Pike was also impressed with the turnout and said most of the people there were from St. George.

“We may have visitors among the crowd, but these are the local people, and it tells me that we have people that are concerned … about what they’ve seen nationally about George Floyd,” Pike said.

“I think they’re concerned, and they want to make sure that we don’t have that happen in our area.”

The city is ready to have discussions and learn from others in the community, even if they may not agree on some things, he said, adding that it’s good to try and understand another person’s perspective.

L-R St. George City Council members Danielle Larkin and Gregg McArthur, St. George Mayor Jon Pike, and local Black Lives Matter organizer Troy Anderson, at the BLM protest against police brutality in downtown St. George, Utah, June 4, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Pike, who was holding a demonstration sign himself while standing on the street corner with other members of the City Council, said he understood some members of the community wouldn’t take well to seeing him supporting the Black Lives Matter protest.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “I don’t think we have to be so quick to judge and be concerned. We’re trying to listen, trying to have people feel like this is their community – our community. I hope we can work together and be respectful of different view points and simply listen … That’s the kind of community I want to live in.”

Anderson said the City Council has yet to have a formal sit-down with the local Black Lives Matter chapter that opened at Dixie State University earlier this year. While the invitation is open, Anderson said he wants to get a good handle on how people of color locally are faring. Once that data is collected, he’ll approach the City Council.

Though St. George and the surrounding area may not have experienced major acts of racism or police brutality like other cities across the country have, Anderson said racism is very subtle in Southern Utah in comparison to other places.

Protesters demonstrate against police brutality in downtown St. George, Utah, June 4, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Individuals interested in learning more about Black Lives Matter can call Anderson directly at 435- 319-0985. Those who wish to become involved with the local chapter of Black Lives Matter can visit the Black Lives Matter – Southern Utah Facebook group. Prospective members will be asked screening questions before being allowed to join the group.

The protest, though loud, remained peaceful. As the night wore on, the crowd began to march around the downtown area and eventually made its way to the St. George Police station on 200 East, where Lt. Johnny Heppler spoke with them for a time.

The crowd began to gradually disperse until the majority of the protest activity died down around 11 p.m.

Additional demonstrations hosted various groups are set to take place over the weekend.


  • June 4, 11 p.m. Additional photos added.
  • June 5, 6 a.m. Additional story details and quotes added.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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