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One year later: Leaders, activist reflect on SLC riot and what has happened since

Posted at 10:27 PM, May 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-31 00:30:28-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Sunday marks one year since May 30, 2020, when a riot broke out in downtown Salt Lake City following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

“We won’t forget it, and I would say we shouldn’t forget it. We should understand what caused it, what happened and make sure that we learn from that experience,” former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said.

On that Saturday, Lex Scott, the president of Black Lives Matter Utah, was out of town protesting when she received a call about the riot.

“First thing that came to my mind was anger and rage, because I knew that the people who were doing that had never come to a Black Lives Matter meeting,” she said. "They had never attended an initiative. They had never fed the homeless with us, and I knew we would be blamed for that."

Several people were arrested that evening, and several others were charged following the riot where buildings were damaged, a SLC police car was overturned, and stores were looted.

“You also had people who engaged in criminal conduct and I think they were charged and held accountable,” Sim Gill, Salt Lake County District Attorney, said.

READ: How Utah laws changed after the death of George Floyd

Protesting is an important and legal activity, but when people begin to engage in criminal activity those people need to be held accountable, Gill said.

“You should not let the conduct of a few hijack the conversation that many had in a peaceful manner,” he said.

It was an emotional rollercoaster of a day, Herbert said thinking back.

“I think it was a little bit of surprise, people kind of defacing their own backyard, their own home, the capitol city. Disappointment on probably many different levels. Puzzlement about why. I didn’t understand that type of visceral reaction,” he said.

READ: Salt Lake Police Association reflects on May 2020 riots, thanks supporting agencies

Dozens of protests followed that day, all peaceful as most were across the nation. After the riot, leaders and activists condemned the violence.

“I want the headline to say Black Lives Matter effects police reform. I don’t want the headline to say, activist destroy building,” Scott said.

Throughout the past year, Utah passed more than 20 police reform laws. While Scott said she is happy to see small steps being made, she doesn’t believe enough has been done.

“If you can still recreate George Floyd. If it can still happen again, then we didn’t change anything,” she said.

The Salt Lake City Police Department has never seen this level of reform, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said.

“The reforms that we have put in place, we are seeing results on those reforms. Use of force is down 15 percent in the last 6 months and we have seen incidences that have been safely deescalated and resolved and I think could have very clearly been handled differently in the past,” she said.

The fight is far from over, Scott vowed as she anxiously awaits to see if the Justice in Policing Act passes.

“I can picture the bill passing. [It is] so important that people call their senators, it is so important. As the crowds die down and the headlines go away and the crowds will die down and the headlines will stop, just know we are still here until that bill passes,” she said.