OGDEN — “Justice for Jamal,” the group chanted.
Several dozen activists gathered outside of the Weber County Center on Washington Boulevard Friday afternoon to protest the police shooting and subsequent charges filed against Jamal Bell, a Harrisville man shot numerous times by police officers on March 23.
Bell, who was struck by bullets 11 times, was charged on May 28 with four counts of assault against a peace officer, a second-degree felony.
Bell was one of the handful of people who spoke during the rally, and said the community and the criminal justice system needs to change.
“This ain’t right,” Bell told the crowd. “Eleven damn times, and for what? Being black.”
Bell told reporters before the rally that he was not threatening police before he was shot, and had his hands down and didn’t lunge at police.
“I don’t know how they feel threatened,” he said. He went on to say that he felt if he would have dropped the knives, police still would have shot him. “I didn’t know what to do,” Bell said.
Bell said that he hopes change comes out of his scenario, and police need to have a different resort to handling people other than using their guns.
The protest was headed by Lex Scott, the founder of the Black Lives Matter Utah. Scott told the crowd they want the Weber County Attorney, Christopher Allred, know that Bell’s case is an injustice.
“No justice, no peace,” the group chanted. “Whose streets? Our streets.”
A number of Bell’s friends and family were in attendance to support him, including Bell’s mother, Chandra. She said someone told her that the Weber County Attorney’s Office waited to charge her son because they were “waiting for him to die.”
“Jamal is a strong black man, he survived this,” Chandra Bell said. “He will continue to survive this. We stand with you, Jamal; we are with you until the wheels fall off. We love you.”
Luther Parker, a Bell family representative, said that he has known Jamal since he was a baby. He and Chandra first met when they were students at Weber State. Parker questioned why police would shoot a man in his own home and condemned the officers’ actions from the early morning hours of March 23.
“They say they are here to protect us, but how can you be protected? Especially as a person of color,” Parker said. He said that when a police car pulls up behind him while driving, he gets nervous. “Why? Because I’m a black male, and they feel threatened by me.”
Parker said that he grew up poor in the 1960s and 70s during a time when people of color were dying, and he said they’re still dying to this day.
“Nothing has changed,” Parker said. “Nothing.”
Friends of Jamal, like Tyler Anderson, said he’s tired of having his dignity and rights as a black man taken away. Anderson’s family has faced similar issues with police in years past, as he told the crowd that his brother Sean died while in the custody of the Salt Lake County Jail in 2017.
“If we stand up for ourselves and try to have the same justice served to us that everyone else has, then we’re ‘violent’ and ‘out of control’ and we’re met with violence and animosity, just like Jamal was,” Anderson said. “I’m tired of living our lives in fear because of our race.”
He told Jamal to keep pushing, keep fighting, because the authorities want him to do just the opposite.
“Justice is supposed to be blind, but all I get seen as is a black man,” Anderson said. “We all need to stand up together and make changes together.”
Scott and another event organizer and Ogden activist Malik Dayo, called for increased training to police officers and changes to local policies. Dayo said that implicit bias training is crucial, and those who distain minorities have no business being in law enforcement. He said one reason why police shootings keep occurring is because there is no accountability for police.
“Obviously this training that they are getting is not working,” Dayo said. “You can’t teach somebody not to be racist.”
Dayo also condemned local leadership like Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell for supporting efforts like the now-defunct gang injunction to target people of color. Dayo called Project Safe Neighborhoods — a collaboration of state and federal agencies aimed to federally prosecute repeat gun and drug offenders — as a renewal of old “stop and frisk” policies. It’s time for Caldwell to leave, Dayo said.
Scott, leading chants in between speakers, said that the public must vote their minds to make changes to their community. She called for local legislators to keep police accountable, and called for deescalation and diversity training.
“It’s not okay what you are doing,” Scott said, gesturing toward the building behind her that houses the county attorney’s office. “If you claim to give people justice, then give black people justice, too.”
In the past year, Weber County has seen an increased number of officer-involved shootings. Over a span of 25 days in 2018, three people were shot and killed by police in Ogden. Since Bell’s shooting, two more police shootings have occurred: one in Riverdale and another in West Haven.
Another recent incident occurred in Woods Cross, when an officer pulled his gun on a 10-year-old black child while police were searching for an armed robbery suspect.
Before to the protest, Bell said those involved in Woods Cross incident should be ashamed of himself.
“To pull a gun out on a 10-year-old kid, just because he looks suspicious or black or however you want to say it, it’s BS in my book,” Bell said.