SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – In an act of solidarity, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown took a knee with protesters Wednesday night. This came shortly after he publicly denounced the actions of four Minneapolis officers involved in the death of George Floyd.
The “take a knee” position first became a prominent symbol of protest against police brutality four years ago. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his teammate, Eric Reid kneeled during the national anthem at a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers as a protest against police brutality.
They and other athletes who followed suit at other games were accused of disrespecting the country’s military, which Kaepernick argued was a way to dismiss and deter from their original message. As a result, he was unable to resign with any other NFL team but continued his movement, which gained increasing support.
“He lost a career because the people around him, who governed his career did not want to have anything to do with him. But now look at what we’re seeing. Kaepernick is a hero to a lot of us. I’m glad people are now starting to understand what it’s like to be in that space,” said Dr. McAdams-Jones, professor of nursing and social justice at Utah Valley University.
Demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis began in downtown Salt Lake City Saturday afternoon and quickly developed into violent and destructive riots. Heated exchanges between protesters and police officers could be seen not just in Utah, but across the country.
“We totally see where protesters are coming from. We are just as frustrated as they are because we’re painted in such a negative light. We don’t want to be thought of as killers or the people doing harm to society,” said SLCPD’s Det. Greg Wilking.
He went on to say, “We have been working hard the last several years to learn and make progress. But every time an event like Minneapolis happens, it feels like we’ve taken two steps back after taking one step forward.”
In the days following, protests were noticeably more peaceful in Salt Lake City with moments of kindness and unity in between that serve as a reminder for the community to remain hopeful.
“We want the protesters to understand, we feel that pain, We are trying to listen. We want to listen. The message is heard by our administration. We need to heal this community and figure out a way to move forward because if we don’t, we’re in trouble as a whole.”
On Wednesday, Chief Mike Brown and other officers marched with peaceful protestors, approached them for dialogue, and then took a knee with protesters. The gesture, captured by local photographer Joe Oliver received positive responses from leaders in communities of color that spoke to ABC4 News Thursday.
“Anybody who takes a knee has a significance to me, regardless of the color of their skin. I know Chief Brown. I know where his heart is. So he’s been taking a knee with us, period all along symbolically,” said Dr. McAdams-Jones.
Dr. Jones said she is a “product of disparaged people,” who grew up in South Carolina’s cotton fields. She became active in Utah’s social justice community around 2015 shortly after Darrien Hunt was killed during an altercation with Saratoga Springs Police.
Since then, she’s worked with different police departments in Utah County such as Orem and Police PD as well as SLCPD to improve race relations with the community. She explained that issue at hand will be painful and uncomfortable to address, but it’s necessary in order to move forward in the right direction.
“It’s like a wound. A wound heals from the bottom up and the sides in. If a wound is allowed to heal across the top, what do you think is underneath? All the angry tissue that didn’t heal and it gets infected. So we all have to own it. We have to get in and clean it up. It will be work,” she said.
Up until stay-at-home orders began during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Brown and officers from his department met with members of the Community Activist Group (CAG) two to three times a month to discuss better de-escalation tactics and implicit bias training. The meetings have been taking place for approximately three years.
On Tuesday, Chief Brown and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall held a policy review panel and listening session with multiple prominent leaders in the community to discuss use of force, internal investigations, body-worn cameras, conduct standards, etc. Officials said it was one of many discussions and steps towards change they will take to address the community’s concerns.
Shortly after they took a knee Wednesday, demonstrators lied face down with their hands behind their backs for 8 minutes 46 seconds to signify that the amount of time the Minneapolis officer was seen having his knee on George Floyd before he died.
Det. Wilking said protests will continue Thursday night, but they anticipate for them to be peaceful.