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Wasatch Back Mayors Take A Knee

Four mayors from the Wasatch Back joined a protest march in SLC last week. They were invited by the Salt Lake City mayor to participate in the protest acknowledging the police brutality that is responsible for the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Heber City Mayor Kelleen Potter says participating in the protest in Salt Lake City last week was a memorable life event. The marcher’s sentiments covered a complete spectrum of human emotions. She says it was a raw display of humanity.

“A great thing that we have this right in our constitution to assemble, together, to protest and without any violence, without any destruction. A powerful statement was being made by all these people so after they surrounded us and we stood up and they said march with us and so we did. And we walked down the road with them for a couple blocks and they chanted the names of some of the people, like George Floyd. They had a moment to stop and kneel.  They also took a moment to lay down--everyone laid on their stomach.”

Potter says the police and National Guard lined the streets while protesters marched.

“Same time I looked over at the side of the road where the police lined up and National Guard were lined up and I looked at their faces. I thought about a lot of the policeman that I know in Heber and I really have seen such dedicated service from them. I've seen them put their lives in danger. I think for the most part of all the officers, they really are trying to do the right thing.”

Park City Mayor Andy Beerman says they were invited to attend the march by the Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. Francis Mayor Byron Ames and Midway Mayor Celeste Johnson participated in the march. Beerman says there were some very tense moments while interacting with the marchers, but he says it was a profound experience.

“We waited for the crowd. We went out in front of them and we went to one knee. Several hundred of them passed us at that point waving and [we] got a lot of gratitude out of that. Got people yelling at us. And then a group stopped, and they started shouting that kneeling wasn’t enough and we needed to get up and march with them. And they got fairly aggressive about it. We all looked at each other and said yeah we'd like to march, so we got up and we started marching with them.”

Beerman says there were some 2000 people who were marching who then participated in a symbolic die in.

“They laid in the middle of 5th street for about three blocks and laid there for eight minutes and 46 seconds. You realize how long that is. It’s a very intense eight minutes, almost nine minutes.”

Both Potter and Beerman acknowledge that small town life typically doesn’t deal with police brutality or a lot of violence. Beerman says he’s received requests to sign off on a petition highlighting eight reforms for policing policies.

"Signing off on a petition called Eight Can't Wait requests. And these are recommendations for the Police Departments they ought to take on as policy changes. So, I specifically sent that over to our chief and said what do we already do on this list? And we already do six of the eight items and the other two, they highly recommend against.”

Potter says there are systemic intergenerational issues that impact people of color disproportionately while also creating more social unrest and conflicts with the police.

“One of the comments that Mayor Mendenhall shared with us was that she has a map in her office of 1950s or 60s when there were certain neighborhoods that were redlined and people weren't able to get mortgages in those neighborhoods. This is an area where people haven't had money and continue to be in the same situation.”

Beerman says Park City has identified social equity as a critical priority, but he says the years of implicit biases won’t be eliminated without a focused effort. He says Park City’s Police department is appropriately funded.

The Park City Police Complaint Review Committee is taking applications for two people interested in serving for a three-year term. Meetings are held as needed but no less than one time per year. A link to the details can be found on KPCW.org.

Heber and Midway mayors plan to meet with their police chiefs to identify policy areas that can be improved. 

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.