OGDEN — The push for police reform by local advocates of people of color didn’t end with Saturday’s large demonstration in downtown Ogden.
Rather, those involved hope to build on the strong outpouring here and redouble their calls for things like an increased focus by Ogden officers on nonlethal means in handling volatile situations. “There’s just a lot of different methods that could be used and that’s what we’re pushing for,” said Malik Dayo, organizer of Saturday’s Take a Knee on Washington Boulevard rally in Ogden.
The rally here, like many across the country, was called in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. It drew a far bigger crowd than any other of the events he has organized, said Dayo, a vocal proponent for change in the Ogden Police Department, and he hopes to tap the strong showing in keeping up the pressure. Floyd’s death and the rally here prompted a surge of interest in Northern Utah Black Lives Matter, and those who have reached out, he thinks, could help bolster outreach to the Ogden City Council and other leaders in seeking change.
Jacarri Kelley, the leader of Northern Utah Black Lives Matter, said another step in the group’s efforts will entail pushing for police reform measures at perhaps the state or national level. Northern Utah Black Lives Matter also helped promote Saturday’s rally and Kelley spoke at the event. “Right now we are concentrating on police reform,” she said.
More specifically, she says change is needed mandating quicker release of footage from police officers’ body cameras after violent encounters and increased training to help police recognize unconscious biases, racial and otherwise. As is, police “get a couple hours (of training) here and there,” Kelley said, but she thinks they need more.
Kelley also pointed to the Change.org petition launched by Lex Scott, head of Black Lives Matter Utah, that calls for federal legislation requiring use of civilian review boards in investigating charges of police misconduct. The petition had around 87,700 signatures of the sought-after 150,000 as of Monday afternoon.
Saturday’s rally, held outside Ogden City Hall in downtown Ogden, drew a large crowd, with attendees spilling into 25th Street, which was closed off in front of the building for the event. Unease, concern and anger over the death of Floyd, who was pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis officer who placed his knee on the man’s neck, spurred the strong showing, organizers say.
“We don’t need another death like George Floyd. That’s unacceptable and we’re not going to take that anymore. We’re done,” said Kelley.
Dayo thinks the interest stemmed from an increased desire among the public for accountability when police are involved in such things.
“It was amazing to see the support for George Floyd and the solidarity with Minneapolis,” he said. Numerous races and ethnicities were represented at the rally, and white people, Dayo continued, “are just as fed up with it now as we are.”
Unlike protests in Salt Lake City and many other locations across the country, the Ogden rally didn’t turn violent. Speakers called for police reform and justice for Floyd, chanted and blasted police violence, even as members of the Ogden Police Department maintained security. But there were no broken windows, no trashed vehicles, no spray-painted slogans.
In a Facebook video Saturday night, Police Chief Randy Watt lauded those who organized and participated in the event for the manner in which it was carried out. “It was peaceful, the message was put across, but it was done in such a way that the citizens of Ogden had no reason to fear or doubt that there would be issues or trouble,” Watt said.
Patrols were increased in the city later Saturday and Sunday as a precaution against the possibility of some sort of outbreak of violence. But Lt. Brian Eynon said Monday that no significant issues materialized.
“It’s been very quiet in Ogden. The people have been very, very peaceful and we’re not expecting anything else to pop up, but you never know,” Eynon said.
Dayo’s no stranger in the push here for police reform, recently in connection with the death of Jovany Mercado at the hands of Ogden police on Aug. 16, 2019. Police had been called in response to reports of a suspicious man holding a knife in the 800 block of 32nd Street. Mercado didn’t heed commands of the responding officers to drop the weapon and was shot and killed as he walked toward them.
Dayo maintains that in such circumstances, police should try to subdue suspects via nonlethal means, perhaps with Tasers, rubber bullets or beanbag rounds. So far, his calls for change to that end, though, have been met with inaction, he said. Like Kelley, he’s also a proponent of increased bias training for police.
City leaders “have made it clear they have no intention to make changes at this time,” Dayo said.
City officials have said they listen seriously to proposals put forward by Dayo and others pushing for reform, but that they are sometimes unworkable.
Proponents of change like Dayo have also called for more racial and ethnic diversity on the Ogden police force. Watt said in January that department officials have tried to do so but have so far been unsuccessful given difficulties in finding minority candidates.