ST. GEORGE — A protest that drew around 200 people in St. George the night of May 30 started with just one person. Since then, several protests with even larger crowds have followed.
St. George resident Gigi Reed has never organized a protest or worked as an advocate. She was an administrative assistant and a mother. But she was disturbed by what she saw as the continued mistreatment of people of color at the hands of law enforcement exemplified by the May 26 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
She decided she was going to stand on the corner of St. George Boulevard and 200 East to protest the killing. She posted her intentions Friday morning to her Facebook page:
“Saturday at 5pm I will be on the BLVD holding a sign to PEACEFULLY protest and remind the world that black lives matter. I’ll be in front of Iceberg. Show up or don’t. That’s ok.”
Reed’s expectation was that she was going to be by herself. A lone voice standing up for her cause.
But in the end, she found out she was not alone in her feelings. According to St. George Police, 200 people showed up, not just standing in front of the restaurant, but filling all four corners of the intersection.
“The protest started with a post of mine and spread like rapid fire. I was planning on protesting by myself and if a few others showed up, but either way I was going to do it,” Reed told St. George News. “It blew up; it was shared all over Facebook and Instagram.”
There have been protests in all 50 states in the last week. Many of the protests were organized by larger organizations, including one Saturday in front of St. George City Hall that was organized by Black Lives Matter. There was also a protest that drew 100 in Cedar City on Sunday.
But the Saturday night protest on the boulevard was the largest of the weekend and started a week of protests that included one Thursday that drew between 300 and 800 people.
“I am a woman with no background in advocacy or starting protests but just a person who believes in what’s right,” Reed said. “I wanted to do a peaceful protest to get my message across. Black lives matter. I believe that until black lives matter equally to the other races, then we can’t say that all lives matter.”
Peaceful being the key word. Other than a firecracker thrown out by a passing vehicle that seemed to be aimed at the protesters, there were not any violent confrontations or any repeat of the more violent displays seen on the same night up north in Salt Lake City and repeated in other major cities.
A majority of passing motorists honked or yelled out their approval, with the occasional passing motorist expressing their disapproval through, at best, screeching their tires or, at worst, vulgarity or threats.
“We had a few people yell out, ‘F–- George Floyd’ or ‘all lives matter’ or just drive by laughing or giving the middle finger. That was only a small percentage,” Reed said. “The majority of people driving by were on support and that felt great. It was an overall success and my take away from it was all the good. None of the bad.”
St. George Police’s visual presence was minimal – a few bicycle officers and an occasional police vehicle driving by. However, St. George News learned many more officers with anti-riot gear were stationed in the nearby Washington County Courthouse.
But they would never be needed.
“The one thing I stressed from the beginning of the protest and that I reminded people of the whole time was that this was peaceful. If you couldn’t be peaceful about this then you might as well go home,” Reed said. “St. George was not going to riot, loot or act like idiots. We were going to do this right.”
Reed also complimented the St. George Police for allowing the protesters’ voices to be heard and not resorting to any kind of escalation.
“The police showed great respect and dignity through the whole thing,” Reed said. “We had an open dialogue, and I feel that they truly heard us.”
Reed also said she was impressed by St. George Mayor Jon Pike and Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke meeting with the protesters and listening to their grievances.
“The mayor and county attorney asked for a picture with me,” Reed said. “How cool is that?”
Martin Luther King Jr. talked about people “learning to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Reed said the basic human trait of respect was a large part of her and the protesters’ actions Saturday night, and that extended to many of the protesters spending the end of it picking up the various food wrappers, empty water bottles and pizza boxes and filling up the back of Reed’s minivan with it.
By the time the protest was over at 11 p.m., the areas that hundreds filled earlier was practically spotless.
Reed said she hopes what is not lost is the reason why she decided to be the seed of what became more than 200 voices Saturday night on St. George Boulevard.
“We just want equality for people of color,” Reed said. “Is that so much to ask?”
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