SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Statewide police reform is at the center of discussion on Utah’s Capitol Hill as Senator Daniel Thatcher announced Friday morning he is sponsoring three bills at the request of NAACP Salt Lake Branch.
In demonstrations we’ve seen throughout the state this week, one thing has been clear – those who are protesting want change when it comes to police reform.
“The ugly head of racism and discrimination can still be present and we need to address it,” said Karece Thompson with the Clearfield City Council. “Like many people of the Black community, the past couple of weeks has been difficult to process. I was hurt, I was afraid and in many ways, I was in pain.”
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said that as one of the leaders of law enforcement in our state, he shared some of the responses he received after speaking to police this week
“As a body, they’re disgusted by the actions of men who shouldn’t have worn the badge, who didn’t deserve to wear the badge (referring to the Minneapolis officers involved in George Floyd’s death),” he said.
Reyes said the state has been working towards better law enforcement practices for years, referencing to one example after Eric Garner’s death in New York City in 2014.
“At that time, I sat down with the NAACP and the National Urban League to have long discussions. From that, I hired a consultant to help train law enforcement on proper use of force, violence de-escalation, and a number of techniques proved to help people in high-stress, confrontational situations,” he said. “The program also used the basis of a virtual simulator and a curriculum of cultural awareness.”
But for many protesters, community leaders, and activists, it’s not enough. Friday morning, members and supporters of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch gathered at the Utah State Capitol to announce more change could be coming.
“You might ask, ‘Why are we rushed? What’s the hurry?’ I’m here to tell you we have waited too long and we need to put pencil to paper and act. We must act as if our lives depended on this legislation. Crying or being mad or not working together is not going to solve any problems whatsoever,” said Jeanetta Williams, President of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch.
Senator Thatcher, who has spearheaded many legislative efforts on criminal justice, sentencing, and police reform, agreed to sponsor three bills proposed by Williams’ organization.
“The NAACP specifically called out issues they wanted addressed that I had not tackled before, that had been set aside, and asked for our support,” he said. “I want to be clear. While I’ve passed a lot of bills […], these three bills are very special to me in that on these three bills, I am not a leader. I am listening, I am hearing, and I am following,”
One of his most notable bills is S.B. 103 or also known as Utah’s “Hate Crime Bill” which creates an enhanced penalty for those convicted of targeting a victim based on race, religion, sexual orientation, military service, political expression and a number of other protected categories. The bill finally passed in the 2019 legislative session after four years of sponsorship.
This legislation will address limiting the use of force, eliminating racial profiling, de-militarizing law enforcement, tracking and reporting data, as well as proper screening, educating, and training of all officers. Williams said they are also hoping to push for more diverse law enforcement in terms of race and gender.
“Utah (could) be the first to adopt each of these measures that Jeanetta outlined. Utah will be an example to the United States on how to heal divides and collaborate,” said Thompson. “There’s no better state than Utah to lead out on this and there’s no better time than now.”
He went on to say, “It’s important for us to recognize that these issues and the way to resolve them do not belong to any one group or any one person. They belong to all of us, as Utahns, as neighbors, as family, and as friends. All voices are wanted, especially those of Black communities and communities of color.”
The Utah Chiefs of Police Association and all six of Utah’s ethnic and minority lawmakers expressed support for these bills. Sen. Thatcher said they will meet as soon as next work to work on the details of this legislation.
“I have faith that these three issues addressing the issues outlined will be successful. I do believe we will find consensus and that they will have support and pass,” said Sen. Thatcher.
ABC4 Utah wanted to have a meaningful discussion about race and justice but more importantly, ask where do we go from here? Watch ABC4’s Brittany Johnson moderates a discussion with Representative Sandra Hollins, Former Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Lashawn Williams, Ph.D., Doctor of Education at Utah Valley University.