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NAACP Pushes For Police Reform In Utah And Nationwide

A photo of a woman speaking into microphones inside the utah capitol building
Jon Reed
Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, met with state and local leaders Friday to announce coming legislation aimed at reforming state police agencies.

In the wake of mass protests in Utah and across the country over police brutality and racial injustice, the NAACP is pushing for widespread legislative changes to law enforcement agencies across the country. 

Jeanetta Willliams, president of the organization’s Salt Lake branch, said Utah was the first state to respond to the organization’s callout, and announced upcoming legislative efforts at a press conference Friday with other state leaders. 

She said the NAACP is calling for broad reform at the federal, state and local level, including greater accountability for officers accused of excessive force, limiting racial profiling and the use of force, and better data tracking and reporting. It’s also asking the United Nations to classify police mistreatment of Black people in the U.S. as a human rights violation and to impose sanctions if necessary.

In Utah specifically, Williams said more efforts are also needed to diversify the state’s police forces. 

And with the conversation around police brutality reaching a boiling point, she said she’s confident positive changes are coming. 

“We’re going to work with everybody and anybody who comes to the table to get this work done,” she said. “We’re not looking to see who’s going to take credit for it, we’re just looking to say ‘let’s get it done.’”

State Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said the NAACP approached him to help put the organization’s guidelines into law. He said it’s too early to say what exactly individual bills might say or require, but he and various community partners — including other lawmakers and law enforcement representatives — will meet as early as next week to begin discussions. 

“As with most legislation, the devil is in the details,” Thatcher said. “Rather than try to parse that out now, I think the appropriate thing is we get all of our partners to the table. First you agree on the concepts, and then you work out the details.” 

He added that he expects broad agreement among the issues and the bills should pass by next year, though are not likely to come up in a special legislative session this month. 

That would still be much faster than reforms to the state’s hate crime laws, which he said took about 10 years to complete.

“It was an uphill battle trying to convince some people that hate crimes really were an issue in Utah,” he said. “I challenge you to go out and find somebody [today] who does not believe these issues need to be addressed.”

Williams noted that three of the issues brought up by the NAACP will be addressed in bills sponsored by Thatcher — though didn’t specify which. She said she expects other considerations will be taken up in bills introduced by the state’s racial and ethnic minority legislators — Reps. Sandra Hollins, Angela Romero, Karen Kwan and Mark Wheatley, and Sens. Luz Escamilla and Jani Iwamoto. 

While none were present at the conference Friday, they released a statement voicing their support for the efforts. 

“We are confident that legislative political will is bending towards justice because of growing and powerful voices from the public,” the statement read. “Our goal remains to uplift our constituents and Utah’s communities of color. We will be moving forward and talking more about specific legislation in the coming days.”

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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