Silent protest in Salt Lake decries officer-involved deaths in Utah and Missouri
Michelle Tessier, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A contrast to gunshots and Molotov cocktails in Ferguson, Missouri, a group at Salt Lake Community College sat silently Thursday, red bands tied around their arms.
Nearly 50 protestors sang "Amazing Grace" before falling quiet at 5:20 p.m., joining a national moment of silence for an 18-year-old shot and killed by police in St. Louis on Saturday that has sparked long days of protests and violent nights between demonstrators and police.
Among the group outside the SLCC student center were family members of two Utah men killed by law enforcement in Utah — Siale Angilau, 25, shot by a federal marshal as he charged at a witness in court, and Dillon Taylor, 20, shot in a confrontation with police outside a South Salt Lake convenience store.
The protest was one of dozens across the country calling for a "national moment of silence" as rioters and peaceful protestors alike have clashed with police in Ferguson, Missouri, the violent fallout after the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American man from the St. Louis neighborhood.
Few details have been released by police about Brown's death. Police have called the shooting a result of a dangerous confrontation with Brown, while witnesses contend the 18-year-old was fleeing when he was shot.
Meanwhile, three Salt Lake police officers have been placed on leave as Taylor's shooting is investigated. Police have not released whether Taylor was armed when he was killed. Family members say he wasn't.
Taylor's brother, Jerrail Taylor, accompanied friends and family members as they joined the vigil. He was with his brother Monday night when he was shot and claims the limited information investigators have shared about the shooting doesn't match up with what he saw.
"I'm confused. They said he was angry," Jerrail Taylor said. "He didn't seem upset to me. He just pulled up his pants. He followed the orders, and they still shot him."
Jerrail Taylor claims officers investigating the shooting have failed to provide his family with a name and badge number of the officer involved.
Alasdair Ekpenyong, who helped organize the event, told the crowd that Monday's silent protest united voices across the country and offered a chance for those concerned by officer-involved shootings in the U.S. to ask questions and share their feelings without fear of reprimand.
"This is not meant to be critical of police," he told the crowd. "Police, when they act properly, provide a valuable service."
Nevertheless, Ekpenyong spoke out about local shootings like that of Dillon Taylor, asking the crowd to raise their hands if they had heard about it. He believes force used by police in Utah and around the country needs to be checked.
"The solution is going to involve communities everywhere, including in Utah, talking about the fact that it happens in our cities, it happens in Missouri, it happens in New York, it happens in Salt Lake City, and it needs to be stopped," he said.
President Barack Obama called for calm on all sides in an address Thursday morning, saying there is "no excuse" for use of excessive force by officers against protestors. On the other hand, Obama decried violence against police as well as looting and criminal activity in the aftermath of the shooting.
The president likewise criticized the arrest of two journalists covering the mayhem in Missouri, a fact that Ekpenyong called troubling. The reporters were later released with no charges filed.
Obama said Thursday that following shootings like the one that killed Brown, law enforcement has a responsibility to be "open and transparent" through their investigations. The Ferguson Police Department has not released the name of the officer who pulled the trigger, citing threats and safety concerns.
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