Updated 11:00 p.m. MDT 5/30/2020
A citywide curfew enacted by Salt Lake City to quell violence after a day of protest against police brutality went into effect Saturday night, as police advanced on demonstrators, pushing them south from downtown Salt Lake City.
As a helicopter circled overhead, gunshots could occasionally be heard amid moments of chaos when a line of police and National Guard troops charged toward the few hundred remaining people who had gathered around the east lawn of the Salt Lake City and County Building. People hurled bottles, rocks and other projectiles at riot police and SWAT members, who responded with less-than-lethal force, firing several bean bag rounds at demonstrators, hitting one man in the eye.
Exact numbers of arrests were not immediately available, but were likely to be in the dozens as police ramped up efforts to enforce the curfew around 10 p.m. Police had parked a large white bus to transport arrested demonstrators. Nine officers received medical treatment, mostly for heat exhaustion but also stemming from an attack with a baseball bat.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown implored people to comply with the curfew and return home during a press conference called shortly after 9 p.m.
“It is time to go home. This is not helping. Please, parents: call her your kids and get them back home. Nothing good can come from this now,” Brown said. “We will be arresting those who do not comply.”
Mendenhall set the curfew from 8 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. Monday, but in comments to reporters Saturday night said it could end early if people comply with the order. The curfew came in response to protests, triggered by the recent in-custody death of a black man in Minneapolis, that sparked more violence.
At the press conference Brown addressed the death of George Floyd, and offered condolences to the man's family. He also lamented the actions of the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd's death.
“We look at this as a very disturbing situation, because those four officers have put us in this situation.” Brown said. “They have undone the great work that so many law enforcement officers and agencies have tried to instill and build relationships over the last four years."
Salt Lake City police tweeted asking people to follow the curfew due to “the amount of assets focused on the protest.” The department said managing the protest “has diverted critical resources from other parts of the city.”
Gov. Gary Herbert earlier in the day activated up to 200 National Guardsmen in support of crowd control, with the Air National Guard arriving Saturday night.
Earlier in the evening police intermittently clashed with some members of the crowd, who largely gathered near the main City Library at 400 S and 200 E. before the curfew went into effect.
One police officer was hospitalized after being hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat. The officer was wearing a helmet when he was hit, Brown said. Two other officers were being treated at an area hospital for heat exhaustion as the day’s temperatures had climbed into the 90s, and six others were treated for the same issue at a local fire station.
But the aggression was not only between demonstrators and police. In one incident, a man wielding a bow and crying out “All Lives Matter” began to draw an arrow before a crowd descended upon him and set his car ablaze, according to reports and video posted to Twitter showed.
Oluwa Funmilayo had been protesting since 5 p.m. and was still out about a half hour before the curfew took effect. She said the reason she’s out is simple, she’s just sick of black men dying at the hands of cops.
“So far it's a mix of people who are here actually trying to show that we’re not gonna stand for injustice for the black community,” Funmilayo said. “And then there are people who are trying to incite anxiety and angst among all these people.”
Law enforcement from West Valley City, South Jordan and Ogden were also on hand to help curb the violence. The Salt Lake City school district announced it would allow police to use East High School as a temporary staging site.
The curfew followed a morning of peaceful protests against police brutality that turned violent with protesters smashing police cars, overturning one and setting it on fire.
Herbert, Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown announced the curfew during a virtual news conference Saturday evening. They were joined by the Rev. France Davis, the retired pastor of Salt Lake City’s Calvary Baptist Church.
“We join with those who demand change and are ready to work together,” Mendenhall said during the news conference. “The unfortunate choice of some to inflict destruction and chaos does nothing to right past wrongs.”
More than a thousand people on foot and a car caravan started Saturday morning and looped around the Salt Lake City Police Department building before heading up to the state capitol.
“Unfortunately what I’ve seen in the last few hours is that it’s gone from a peaceful protest to just criminal behavior,” Herbert said. “We’ve got to call it what it is: criminal behavior. People are looking to riot, to loot to create violence and that’s not acceptable.”
Utah’s ethnic and minority legislators held a press conference Saturday evening as well to comment on the situation that was unfolding downtown.
“As legislators, we encourage people who choose to protest to stay safe, respect property, and respect social distancing,” they said in a joint statement. “We will continue pressing for reforms to our criminal justice system, de-escalation training for law enforcement, and more accountability and transparency from law enforcement and government officials.“
University of Utah Health announced it would be closing COVID-19 testing sites in Sugarhouse and Redwood due to the curfew. Testing locations in South Jordan, Farmington and Park City will remain open.