Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said Sunday morning the city’s streets are “quiet and calm” after Saturday’s protests against police brutality turned violent.
But Mendenhall cautioned against prematurely lifting a citywide curfew that went into effect 8 p.m. Saturday and is scheduled to last until 6 a.m. Monday.
The mayor said city officials were assessing property damage caused by vandalism and graffiti, but it was too early to determine how many buildings were affected or how much it would cost the city.
Protesters bashed in windows of squad cars, threw eggs at and spray painted the Salt Lake City Police Department building and the state Capitol.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said 41 people were arrested following Saturday’s events. Charges include assault on police officers, failure to disperse and violating the city’s curfew. Brown said the Utah National Guard would remain on hand to make sure the situation remains calm.
He said police were also working to identify where the people who were arrested are from and that he had a feeling some people came from out of state to incite violence.
A Volatile Situation
When the protest first kicked off Saturday morning, police presence was low. Brown said that was a strategic decision as Salt Lake City is a place where people can come to express their opinions.
“We allowed that yesterday,” Brown said. “And when it turned violent and started to enter into vandalism we took a different course. One of things that’s always to be considered is you don’t want to be a target of a protest. And we knew going in we would be.”
What started as a peaceful protest Saturday morning had, by late afternoon, turned violent. Police officers formed a barricade outside the Salt Lake City and County Building, with hundreds of demonstrators staring back at them.
While mostly a standoff, the night was punctuated by outbursts and confrontations between protestors and police — demonstrators threw glass and plastic bottles, rocks and other projectiles. Fireworks could also be heard occasionally going off, though it wasn’t clear where they were coming from. Officers responded with nonlethal rounds and hit protestors with batons.
After the curfew went into effect at 8 p.m., more officers joined the ranks, including members of the National Guard, and began pushing the demonstrators several blocks south.
Officers had made a few arrests throughout the night for assault, but began rounding up the remaining demonstrators shortly after 10 p.m.
Brown said 21 officers were treated for medical issues. One officer was hit in the back of the helmet with a baseball bat, while others suffered from heat exhaustion.
The police chief also commended his crew, saying they withstood being spat on and having a litany of objects thrown at them.
“They’re exhausted,” Brown said, pausing momentarily as he was overcome with emotion. “They’re tired but they will never give up. They’re good people.”
The Clean Up Process
Mendenhall said street sweepers were out overnight and city officials have received calls from volunteers offering to help in the cleaning effort.
But she cautioned them to let the city get organized first before coming out to help.
“The trash is not going anywhere,” she said. “The spray paint is not going anywhere. We want to go about it in an appropriate way. Please let this curfew stand. Let’s not compromise the safety and security of our residents by sending people out who mean to do well.”
Mendenhall noted that graffiti removal could lead to more damage if not done in the right way. But she said she is grateful for the spirit of volunteers cropping up around this.
The Next Step
Both Mendenhall and Brown asked for help from the community as authorities reviewed the protest and its aftermath. In particular, they referenced a video of a man who, during the protest, appeared with a bow and arrow which he aimed and shot at someone before being rushed by a number of bystanders.
Editor’s note: The video of the incident can be seen here but it includes violent content and graphic language. He was also later seen wielding a machete.
Brown said he was disturbed by seeing that. Both he and the mayor asked for witnesses to come forward and offer information about the incident. The man in the video spoke to a local reporter, but police have yet to make an arrest.
The city is also inviting people to submit complaints if they had any interaction with officers yesterday that they think involved an inappropriate use of force. Brown said in the coming weeks he hopes to sit down with community members and have a conversation about what his officers could do better.
Mendenhall said the city is focused on being transparent and having these conversations with stakeholders.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson released a statement Sunday morning saying she was saddened to continue to see instances where crime is committed by law enforcement at the expense of people of color.
“Freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental rights in a free society,” Wilson said. “Voices long ignored, have every right to be heard. But it is my sincere hope that protesters will find peaceful and civil means to express themselves.”
Wilson offered the county’s Council of Diversity Affairs as a resource to help initiate conversations between minority communities and the police.