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Hundreds protest after Cottonwood Heights councilwoman takes knee during Pledge of Allegiance

Posted at 10:46 PM, Jun 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 00:46:02-04

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah — Two groups of protesters gathered at Cottonwood Heights City Hall on Monday evening — one group supporting the city’s police department, the other asking for reforms.

Prior to both rallies, residents posted hearts across city hall with messages of support for police.

“It’s nice to see that people actually care and support you,” said Lt. Dan Bartlett, a spokesperson for the Cottonwood Heights Police Department.

As the two protests merged, hundreds of people held signs peacefully – some of them standing shoulder to shoulder with another protester holding a sign with a contrasting message.

“There’s some corrupt people (within the police department) and they need to be put in check,” protester Griffin Munson said. “Up here, it’s not about race. They just screw everyone and anyone they can.”

“To have police denigrated like this group is doing is just strictly stupid,” said Larry Jewkes, a resident who says he has lived in Cottonwood Heights for 50 years.

Some said they were inspired to rally because of the actions of Cottonwood Heights Councilwoman Tali Bruce, who took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance at a recent city council meeting.

“It was an embarrassment to me that that’s somebody representing our government,” Jewkes said. “Get somebody in there that knows what they’re really doing.”

Jewkes said he finds it frustrating to see protesters holding signs urging governments to “defund the police.” That’s why he held up a sign urging the city to defund Councilwoman Bruce.

“Transfer Ms. Bruce budget to the police budget, as well as her salary!!!” the sign reads.

“She has been a problem for Cottonwood Heights I think ever since she’s been in,” resident Andra Coccimiglio said. “If she’s not doing the job right, maybe we need to find someone else.”

Councilwoman Bruce has defended her decision to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance, even if that means losing some voters.

“If I can take a knee and show solidarity in their pain and just let them know that they’re heard and they’re recognized and they’re being listened to? I think it’s a simple gesture, and I think it’s called upon that we all do that. Black lives matter,” she told FOX 13. “We’re not on two different sides of this conversation. We’re all supporting our police and I don’t think there’s anything ‘anti’ about asking someone to do their job a little better.”

Police Chief Robby Russo wrote an email to the mayor and city manager to express how upset he was with Councilwoman Bruce’s decision to take a knee.

“Your police department who showed great professionalism and restraint during the Salt Lake riots are troubled by the actions of Councilmember Bruce who ‘took a knee’ during the pledge of allegiance during last night's City Council meeting,” Chief Russo wrote. “We are constantly training officers what it means to be a good public servant, respecting the United States of America, our country symbols, diversity and showing loyalty and patriotism. That means we stand at attention for the Pledge of Allegiance. Members of the police department were injured from rocks and bottles defending the right to protest so I'm not sure what message was being sent by an elected official of this city, I believe they deserve an explanation.”

Mayor Mike Peterson told FOX 13 he was not concerned with Councilwoman Bruce’s decision.

“She has every right to take a knee if she wants,” Mayor Peterson said. “I wouldn’t do it myself, but I respect her right to speak out her position… I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but I can understand why some would be offended, and I understand why Tali herself would do it because she feels passionate the things she’s concerned about.”

The mayor attended both protests. He said his goal was to listen to both sides of the conversation.

“We have an outstanding police department, outstanding police officers, but like any great organization we’re always striving to improve,” Mayor Peterson said.

Chief Russo has declined to comment publicly about the situation.

“That’s not something we’re going to comment on,” Lt. Bartlett said. “We’re going to let the city kind of do that. That was an internal thing that I don’t really know needed to go out.”

Councilwoman Bruce said one of the changes she would like to see made involves changing the message written on the city’s police vehicles: “Solve the problem.”

“(The slogan) sets our interactions up to be negative,” she said. “I really want to see a slogan that promotes the idea that our officers are dedicated to protecting and serving the public.”

Many protesters pointed to the Cottonwood Heights shooting death of Zane James in 2018. He was not black, but friends and family are still asking for justice.

“He deserves justice just as much as any of those people,” Munson said. “He was shot unarmed in the back by an off-duty cop who still is employed by the Herriman Police Department. It’s an outrage.”

“I know that they’ve had some difficult times, and I know that there’s some dishonest policemen unfortunately,” Coccimiglio said. “There’s dishonest people in every field, but there are more good than there are bad.”