SALT LAKE CITY — Amid chants and shouts, banners and applause, about 200 people rallied Sunday outside Salt Lake City’s Public Safety Building, braving brisk autumn air to demand policing reforms.
Among other things, Black Lives Matter and Utah Against Police Brutality want unedited body cam video released within 24 hours of any police-involved shooting and an independent panel to convene subsequent investigations into those encounters.
The demands come after last week’s finding by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill that the Aug. 13 shooting death of Patrick Harmon, a black man, by Salt Lake police was legally justified.
Attendees march as Black Lives Matter Utah hosts a rally in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. The group is protesting the death of Patrick Harmon, 50, a black man who was shot and killed by Salt Lake police during a traffic stop in August. The district attorney last week determined that the shooting was legally justified.
Citing a string of officer-involved shootings across the valley in which Gill justified the use of deadly force, Black Lives Matter organizer Lex Scott and other speakers demanded Gill’s resignation.
“Stand up, fight back,” Scott shouted several times, echoed by other protesters.
“He’s (Gill) not going to justify one more murder in this city,” she shouted.
Another speaker, Mac Allred, said he isn’t calling for “rioting” in the streets in response to the Harmon shooting decision, but instead advocated for active community involvement.
“I’m talking about us showing up,” said the Eagle Mountain resident, urging people to show up at every town hall, every debate and every election.
Harmon’s death in what began as a routine police encounter is yet another flash point in the national debate that swirls around officer-involved shootings, race, use of force and communities increasingly rocked by protests and violence if officers are absolved.
In Harmon’s case, police say he crossed all six lanes of traffic and the median on his bicycle. Officers stopped him because his bicycle did not have a required rear tail light, according to a report. Controversial body cam video shows Harmon running away from officers as they were handcuffing him, then appearing to pivot toward them as he was shot. Authorities say he had a knife and had threatened to cut or stab officers.
Gill said given the close proximity between Salt Lake police officer Clinton Fox and Harmon, the officer’s fear for his life would have been reasonable.
“Officer Fox said he was terrified by how close Mr. Harmon was to the officers when Mr. Harmon stopped and turned toward them,” the district attorney report on the shooting states.
Gill added, “These are not easy decisions. They’re difficult decisions. I don’t take them lightly, and this was a very trying decision.”
“You can’t watch that video and not realize it is a clear case of murder,” Scott said. “It is one of the clearest cases of murder we’ve ever seen.”
Scott claims the Harmon family, which lives in Colorado and St. Louis, is “shell shocked” after seeing the footage.
Kiara Polly, a member of Utah Against Police Brutality and the adopted mother of an African American baby, said she worries over the life her son may encounter growing up in Utah.
She asserted that if the circumstances had been identical — and she had been the person on the bicycle — officers would have inquired after her health and given her a ride home.
Scott, too, urged greater community participation in the call for criminal justice reform as well as more training for officers in de-escalation tactics.
Organizers are planning a “sit in” at Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s office on Tuesday to push for an ordinance on the release of body camera video and plan to attend the Salt Lake City Council meeting afterward.
Community activist groups, too, meet every other Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the Salt Lake Police Public Safety Building to draw attention to their cause. The next event is Oct. 18.