SALT LAKE CITY – The rivals for the Democratic nomination to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop in Congress describe themselves as opposing progressive and moderate candidates, but they were of one mind about the urban unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
During a June 1 broadcast sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission, Darren Parry of Logan said the sometimes-violent nationwide protests were the product of frustration because “people of color have not had a seat at the table. As a Native American leader, I understand that and it’s disheartening.”
“We need to take the message from these protests that there is ‘over-policing’ happening to black and brown bodies here in America,” added Jamie Cheek of Ogden. “’Black Lives Matter’ is more than a hashtag; it’s a reality that we have to recognize.”
George Floyd was an African-American who died in police custody in Minneapolis a week ago. The arresting officer in the case, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and charged with homicide. Graphic cellphone footage of Floyd’s death has sparked outrage across the county, including rioting over the past weekend in Salt Lake City and a peaceful protest in Ogden.
The comments by Cheek and Parry during the debate echoed the rhetoric of many Democratic figures in recent days.
Parry quoted the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said: “Riots are the voice of the unheard.”
For her part, Cheek referred to the incidents of civil unrest as “conversations” between protesters and authorities.
“We need to make sure that we pay attention to these ‘conversations’ and give a voice to people who want to speak about these issues,” she argued. “These events have shown us that when police officers accept the message that is being sent to them and look for a solution rather than the end point of an arrest or putting someone into a police car, we have much better interactions in the long term.”
Cheek said that she attended the recent protest held by Black Lives Matter activists in Ogden.
“It was beautiful,” she recalled. “We had more than 2,000 people attend and the Ogden Police Department … was there to ensure that the people had the right to peacefully protest. That’s how it should work. People should be able to come together and have these ‘conversations’ and show what matters to our communities.”
Both Democrats emphasized that police officers nationwide need to be more enlightened in their dealings with people of color.
Parry said that police officers should focus on reducing confrontation in dangerous situations.
“There needs to be comprehensive changes to the way that we train police officers,” Cheek agreed. “Far too often our officers are trapped in circumstances where they have to escalate a situation rather than deescalating it.
“That’s the message that I want to take to Washington.”