The evening of March 18 marked the third and final installment of community dialogue aimed at bringing together Salt Lake City law enforcement and elected officials with average citizens on the subject of police gun violence. Titled “Know Your Rights” and held at the Sorenson Multicultural Center in Salt Lake City, the event featured many of the community figures present at the first gathering and blended the best (or perhaps least-worst) elements of the first and second meetings. There was far less awkward tension at this gathering.
To open the discussion, Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker delivered a short overview of the proceedings, then bolted as if staying any longer would have given him some horrible Civil War disease.
Then the ACLU of Utah’s legal director, John Mejia, provided instruction for what to do if detained by police: plead the fifth, ask for a lawyer, don’t antagonize officers, calmly do as you’re instructed, take careful note of the entire situation and names of officers involved, and so on. It was useful information for those with little knowledge of the process, but wasn’t very insightful for those with more experience. The gist of the presentation was to simply be calm and observant during the detention process, then seek legal recourse after you’ve been detained.
The floor was then opened up to community discussion. Citizens gathered in circular groups with a moderator and a member of law enforcement. One group, to the irritation of its members, didn’t have any officials in it. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank later poked his head in to calm their frustrations.
The group discussions were calmer than those at previous gatherings, perhaps because people had vented their anger at the first and second, and perhaps because there were some officials in each group who would listen to them. Chief Burbank and District Attorney Sim Gill answered the groups’ questions as a father would answer an irritating torrent of questions posed by his curious child. The officials were respectful, but seemed capable only of delivering the “we’re doing our best” explanations we’ve come to expect.
This outreach program/attempt at reconciliation perhaps represents a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. The force was provided by the families and friends of those who were killed in police shootings, and the object existed in the form of the slow-moving leviathan of bureaucracy that is law enforcement.
Offering these dialogues was a show of good faith by local officials, but they largely missed the mark of providing meaningful community feedback to law enforcement, as most community feedback consisted of vague personal frustrations with no constructive solutions. They did offer a safe place for the families of victims of lethal police force to grieve and seek support, but the sentiment visible on the officials’ faces was “let’s get this over with so I can go back to work.”
If citizens were hoping to learn of policy changes to reduce future police shootings, it appears they left empty handed. However, at least it can be said the police are more aware of the pain and loss caused by every shooting.