Demonstrations for police reform continued Saturday night in Salt Lake City, as more than 100 people gathered at the Capitol waving banners displaying “Black LIves Matter” and “White Silence = Violence.”
After several speeches from organizers, the group marched down a cleared South Temple Street to the Governor’s Mansion, chanting “Repeal H.B. 415” as they approached. Utah Against Police Brutality organized the event as part of a national day of protests and focused their message on repealing the state bill.
Passed in 2019, H.B. 415 prohibits Utah cities and counties from creating an independently-elected committee or board with “certain powers over a police chief,” including the ability to overrule a chief’s hiring or to veto a new policy.
“We believe that independence of review is crucial for accountability, for transparency, for the health and safety of our communities,” said Jade Arter, an organizer with UAPB. “What good is a review board if they can't discipline or take any kind of action that has any teeth?”
Speaking to the crowd through a megaphone, Arter pointed to Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill’s recent ruling that officers were justified in their use of deadly force in the shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal. She also mentioned others who have been killed by Utah police over the last decade, saying they are evidence of a tradition of excessive police violence and lack of accountability in Utah.
Gill has said he’s reviewed nearly 100 officer involved killings, but ruled only a few unjustified. His office recently released a series of proposals to overhaul the state’s use of deadly force laws.
In a statement, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said her’s is one of only two cities in the state with a civilian review board, though its role was narrowed with the passing of H.B. 415.
“We know some of the change that needs to happen in our city’s work toward equity has to be done at the state level,” she said. “And ultimately any shift or increase in the capabilities of a civilian review board is a consideration for our state’s legislators.”
Bill co-sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said that while he agrees community oversight of law enforcement is important, the ultimate authority over things like policy and budget decisions should rest with city council members, county commissioners or state legislators. Ray said the bill still allows for the creation of review boards that can make recommendations to law enforcement.
“The [Utah] Constitution says that government's primary role is public safety,” he said. “And I don't see how you can push that onto an elected citizens’ board that doesn’t have any other power than just over the police department. The people that are running the government need to be the ones that answer.”
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, who was part of the legislative committee that recommended H.B. 415, said he is working on a few bills modeled after a series of reforms proposed by the NAACP, including one that would increase the number of civilian review boards across the state. None of the bill proposals have made it to law yet, but he said he is hoping that will happen in the next special legislative session.
Demonstrators, though, vowed they would continue to speak out until Utah communities have more control over their police departments. Krista Kendall, a Salt Lake resident who has been participating in protests since May 30, said that after studying the civil rights movement, she became a believer in the power of protests to make change.
“It’s about disrupting, forcing [government officials] to listen to us and negotiate,” Kendall said. “I just didn’t know if it actually made a difference to march. But the more I studied, the more I realized it does.”