OGDEN — Traveling north of Salt Lake County into Davis and Weber counties gives Lemoyne Lee the jitters.
“I hate coming to Ogden, honestly. Just the way I’ve been treated,” he said. “Davis and Weber county, I would be followed by police, for no reason.”
The West Valley City man’s daughter, a student at Weber State University, prodded him to join the Northern Utah Black Lives Matter chapter, which meets in Ogden and has members scattered around Northern Utah. But it’s the profiling he says he’s subjected to as a black man by law enforcement in and around Weber County that keeps him active in the group, which broadly advocates for the African-American community.
“When I get pulled over, I’m terrified, and I don’t want to feel like that anymore,” he said. He zeroed in on an incident from his days years ago as a Clearfield High School student, when he says Ogden police pulled him over without justification while driving during a visit, though it hasn’t been his only negative encounter.
Moves to create a Black Lives Matter chapter in the Ogden area date to late 2017, when Black Lives Matter Utah co-founder Lex Scott traveled to the city to meet and organize locals. Those efforts morphed into creation of Northern Utah Black Lives Matter, led by Jacarri Kelley, of Roy, and the small group has been quietly meeting, mixing in the community and gathering force.
Just 1.8 percent of Weber County’s population identified as black as of 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. But Kelley sees the Northern Utah Black Lives Matter group as an advocacy group for them and the broader community of those on the margins and in need. She’s big on community service.
“Celebrate the community and bring it together — black, white, red, yellow,” said Kelley, honored Thursday by the Ogden branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for her efforts with Black Lives Matter. The group, she continues, is “unapologetically for the people, regardless of their race, nationality.”
At a recent meeting of the organization at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, where the group sometimes gathers, members assembled care packages for the homeless. Other efforts have included voter-registration campaigns and participation in cultural events hosted by the local Hispanic and gay and transgender communities.
Also high on Kelley’s radar screen — countering the regular reports she hears out of area schools of verbal attacks and race-based remarks directed at students of color. Her son was the target of a racial slur by another student last September at a Roy school, and it spurred a meeting shortly thereafter of Black Lives Matter members and a special Weber School District committee that handles equity issues.
“Everyday, there’s something different going on in these schools,” Kelley said. “Racial slurs, telling people to go home to Mexico and build the wall ... I feel the schools are not addressing it like they should.”
‘WE’RE NOT ANTI-POLICE’
The national Black Lives Matter movement has its roots in the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman on charges connected to his killing of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, in Sanford, Florida, in 2012.
More generally, the group decries ”state-sanctioned” violence against black people — unjust killings at the hands of police, for instance — and such sentiments figure in the Northern Utah chapter as well. “It’s something we have to speak out about. We can’t have justice and we can’t have freedom until everyone has justice, everyone is free,” said group member Dave Mora of West Haven.
The killing of Michael Brown in 2014 by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, which spurred outrage from Black Lives Matter activists nationally, factored in Mora’s decision to join the Northern Utah chapter. Likewise, concern about what Kelley’s son, now 8, may face as he grows figured in her decision to take part in Black Lives Matter, said her mother, Diane Kelley.
“She really took things to heart with Black Lives Matter. ... She didn’t want to see nothing bad happen to him,” Diane Kelley said.
August Akada, another member of Northern Utah Black Lives Matter, remembers drawing attention from police in South Ogden for no seeming reason. He was taking a walk near his home when an officer passing in a cruiser turned on the vehicle’s police lights and started questioning him.
“I just told him I’m taking a walk and going home right now,” said Akada, who pulled off the hood covering his head and put his hands behind his back in a bid to put the police officer at ease. “It’s a blessing I’ve been able to deal with it. It never escalated.”
Jacarri Kelley, who reports being pulled over by police “way too many times in Ogden,” said campaigning to inform youth of their rights in dealing with law enforcement is key for the group. Still, though contentions that police unfairly single out black people are central in the Black Lives Matter movement, she’s careful not to paint too broad a brush.
“We’re not anti-police. I want everyone to know that,” Kelley said. Rather, she seeks increased transparency from police, more openness so the public can better scrutinize what they do.
‘A TEACHING MOMENT’
Though the NAACP may be a more established name in advocating for African-Americans, Betty Sawyer, head of the Ogden NAACP chapter, welcomes Kelley and the efforts of the Northern Utah Black Lives Matter chapter. She lauded Kelley at an Ogden NAACP luncheon on Thursday in announcing she would get the group’s James H. Gillespie Civil Rights Worker of the Year Award.
“When you start hearing and seeing Black Lives Matter, those of us in and outside our community try to figure, ‘What is this thing?’” Sawyer said. But Kelley “got involved and she brought community together, not only for dialogue but for action, to meet with our police force, to address educational issues.”
In fact, growing up in Weber County, Kelley was very active in NAACP activities, inspired by the involvement of her grandparents, Willard and Corine Kelley. And Sawyer said the work of the two groups is complementary. Their approaches may differ — Black Lives Matter is known, perhaps, as a more raucous group — but they both seek the same general thing, racial justice and equality.
“We know the work is bigger than any one organization,” Sawyer said.
Lee, for one, says there’s plenty to be done. Aside from what he sees as police profiling, he notes everyday unease caused by things like undue scrutiny of minority shoppers by security staffers at stores.
“We know when we’re being followed and singled out,” said Lee, who has three daughters in all living in Weber County. The plainclothes officers will pretend to be shopping “and no matter what part of the store I go, they’re there.”
There are also instances like the time the colleague at work used an outdated racial term in referring to a black customer, not necessarily meaning harm, but drawing Lee’s attention. Through the efforts of groups like Black Lives Matter, the hope is such moments can be defused without the need for shouting and protests, as occurred when Kelley met with Weber school officials over the incident involving her son.
“Instead of getting upset, I sat down and talked to them. That’s what we want to do,” Lee said. “That’s a teaching moment. That’s not a fighting moment, and that’s where we’re at.”