Opposing rallies in Salt Lake call for support for police, defunding

A woman and child participate in a protest in memory of people who have been killed by law enforcement at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. A woman and child participate in a protest in memory of people who have been killed by law enforcement at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. | Yukai Peng, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Two rallies with opposing messages took place Saturday in downtown Salt Lake City — one calling for police to be defunded and one supporting officers.

In front of the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building, ralliers chanted messages such as “Enough is enough,” “Community control now,” and “No more names,” referring to those who have been killed by police in Utah.

Rae Duckworth — whose cousin Bobby Duckworth was shot and killed by police in Wellington, Carbon County, as they responded to a mental health call and he advanced on them with knives — urged the group to support police reform bills and continue to advocate for community control.

Her cousin, she said, “was contemplating suicide. The officer knew him, knew he had a warrant, and knew that he had been in trouble with the law. Is that justified to shoot somebody?”

“I just want to make a point here that don’t let society define who you are. You may get in trouble, but we can grow and we can change. That is not justifiable to me whatsoever,” Duckworth said of the shooting death.

The rally, which drew about 100 people, focused on the 2018 death of Riche Santiago, who police said pointed a gun at them and shot twice before they returned fire, killing him. In April, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill’s office determined the officers were legally justified in using deadly force. Protesters expressed frustration with Gill for regularly declaring officer-involved shootings legally justified.

“We know it’s been over what, almost 200 cases that he’s justified with police? Think about that. Two hundred cases since he’s been in office,” Mike Ramos said. “We want to bring more attention and awareness to these cases of all these beautiful families.”

Later Saturday morning, a separate group of about 75 met in front of the Salt Lake City-County Building to share messages of support for officers. Signs on the grass shared messages such as “Police lives matter,” “I support the thin blue line,” and “Heroes in blue, thank you.”

Heidi Knickerbocker, who sang two patriotic songs at the “Back the Blue” rally, said she has two close family members who serve in law enforcement in Salt Lake City and lives in fear of them getting hurt or killed.

“I get anxious every day waiting for that phone call, and I’ve experienced more death, more of those phone calls, than I think anybody ever should. I don’t want anyone, on any side anywhere in the world, to experience that phone call, because it sucks,” she said, becoming emotional.

Knickerbocker urged people to think of officers “as people too” who have others who love them.

James Sullivan, who is Black, said “it is no small feat to stand up against a force like Black Lives Matter or Antifa that threaten us, try to cancel us,” he said. He said when he spoke up in support of police at an anti-police brutality rally the previous night, other protesters shouted racist epithets at him.

Skye Christensen, an event organizer, said she wanted “to bring positivity back to their career, to show them love, and to show them support.”

“We need to show these men and women who risk their lives every single day, for you and I and for their communities, some support,” Christensen said.

Those at the rally urged others to speak up to preserve their freedom and safety.

“We need to be louder than other movements. They are attacking our police officers. Can you imagine going to work every day to protect people in the streets who hate you?” Christensen said.