MURRAY (ABC4 News) – In response to the violent and destructive riots in Salt Lake City over the weekend, leaders with Utah’s Black Lives Matter chapters want to make sure the damage doesn’t overshadow their main message.
In their past several years of activism, Lex Scott and Jacarri Kelley have not seen a demonstration in downtown Salt Lake City quite like the one on Saturday.
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“We have not seen people care about Black lives as much as they cared about damage to buildings over the weekend. We saw a crowd of thousands of people, but we have not seen those thousands of people attend our police reform meetings. You can replace a building, you can never bring back George Floyd,” said Scott, the organizer of Black Lives Matter Utah.
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The event was originally planned as a peaceful car caravan protest with a designated route by Utah Against Police Brutality. Organizers said more people showed up than anticipated, some with intentions to sabotage their main message.
“I know those organizers. They have protested peacefully for six years and they have never incited violence or destroyed property and the blame is being laid on them as well,” said Scott.
Some demonstrators sprayed graffiti or yelled the words “Black Lives Matter” as they caused damaged to the city, leading Scott and Kelley to reiterate that their groups do not condone violence or destruction to property. They encourage new activists to channel their passion into efforts that will actually lead towards progress and change.
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“If your activism only consists of destruction and not building, that is not activism. That is not what this movement is about. Every person I see destroying something or setting something on fire, I’m going to ask what you have actually done for Black Lives Matter,” said Scott.
She added, “We have been non-violent and we will continue to be non-violent. If we catch any members destroying property or inciting violence, they will be removed from the chapter and I will testify against them myself. It is upsetting that we are being blamed for violence by people who have not put in the work while we have worked peacefully for six years for police reform.”
Kelley’s organization, the Northern Utah Black Lives Matter chapter successfully held a peaceful protest in Ogden, despite tips to police that white national groups would try to interfere.
“The Ogden Police Department confirmed it and that’s why there was so much police presence at our protest,” said Kelley. “I commend them for doing their job beautifully and protecting our right for freedom of speech. If they weren’t there, it could’ve ended up like Salt Lake.”
But organizers said they still feel like their main message has been overshadowed by the injuries and damage caused in Salt Lake City. Scott and Kelley said their objective is to urge lawmakers in Washington D.C. to pass nationwide police reform. Scott has drafted a bill and started a petition that’s reached its goal of 100,000 signatures as of Monday evening.
“We need this bill passed yesterday. We need it right now,” she said.
The bill includes the establishment of a comprehensive data collection system, requirement of implicit bias, de-escalation, and diversity training for every police department, stricter policies on the use of deadly force, the development of independent agencies to investigate officer-involved shootings, and regulations of body cameras.
“We’re not against police officers by any means. The good ones. But we need those good ones to hold the bad ones accountable and we need our police department to be transparent,” said Kelley.
She went on to say, “It’s OK for police officers to say Black Lives Matter. It’s not saying that their lives don’t matter. They’re saying that we understand your pain. We understand your frustration. We understand your heart skips when your kid walks out of the house everyday.”
To view Scott’s petition, click here.