Police officers from at least nine different Utah police departments converged on Provo, Utah, on Saturday, Aug. 15, in preparation for Insurgence U.S.A.’s protest, End Police Brutality: Hold the Drivers Responsible, held later that day.
A video taken by Josianne Petit, a local Utah County activist, only a few hours before the protest started shows police vehicles from Salem, Mapleton, Lehi, Orem, Spanish Fork, Provo, Lone Peak, Bluffdale, and Springville police departments at the Provo Rec Center, only a few blocks away from the Provo Police Department, where the protest was held.
“This is deescalation in the minds of the police. Do you see why we protest? Do you get it now?” Petit said in the video.
The live stream of the protest from organizers’ phones shows a steady stream of police officers patrolling the blocks around the police station and protest. Attendees estimated at one point, there were 50 police officers present.
Stephen Mattei, a protester who consistently helps out with security at various protests, even reported snipers on top of nearby buildings.
“The police claimed they were aware of the snipers and they were not a threat,” says Mattei.
“They wouldn’t confirm or deny if it was a police sniper, even after I told them I felt a sniper is a serious threat and that I would need to know if I needed to start moving people out of there.”
The purpose of Saturday’s protest was to draw attention back to the drivers of cars who tried to run protesters over in Provo on Monday, June 29, 2020. The Provo Police Department has not apprehended the drivers, and in conjunction with Provo Mayor Kaufusi, even released a promotional video on social media associating the peaceful protesters with violence, claiming to “set the record straight.”
Since June 29, local militias have sprung up in Utah County, using social media to quickly amass nearly 20,000 members. The most prolific group, Utah Citizens Alarm, attends almost all of Insurgence U.S.A.’s protests fully armed with assault rifles and handguns, in the guise of “protecting” everyone involved.
“UCA was antagonistic as always,” Mattei says about Saturday’s protest. “Their members played music and Martin Luther King speeches from a car stereo, trying to drown out speeches.”
Mattei says the police seemed friendly with UCA, joking around and letting UCA’s drone fly in the same space as their own surveillance drone.
ACLU Utah and University of Utah Law professors have said UCA’s actions at protests are “concerning” and can be intimidation meant to curb free speech.
“I think what disturbed me the most was the sheer waste of taxpayer dollars an operation like that must have cost,” Mattei continues, speaking of the police. Protest attendees were about 12 in number, small enough for three to four officers to handle.
“But they immediately brought in every available unit and had SWAT on standby. I could tell they were not interested in keeping the peace, so much as intimidation.”
Despite the disproportionate police and civilian militia presence, the protest remained peaceful. Speakers shared personal experiences they had with racism, police brutality and misconduct, ranging from personal experiences and betrayals from the Provo Police Department, to Sandy Police officers killing a man in the middle of a mental health crisis.
A local resident shared how she has treated police officers both physically and psychiatrically in her work at a local hospital, but has never seen any requests from the department for information relating to an officer’s psychological fitness to be on the force or carry a firearm.
The protest ended with rallying cries to “Respect my existence, or expect my resistance!”
As attendees left, organizers approached a coffee shop across the street and joined the shop’s open karaoke night. John Sullivan, founder of Insurgence U.S.A. and an organizer of the protest, says coffee shop employees had asked him to join their karaoke earlier in the evening. Originally, he says he declined because that wasn’t why he was out protesting.
“But then I was like, why not? What a good way to get involved with the community. They approached me and were fearless; they weren’t scared of who I was,” he says.
Sullivan wore his AR-15 throughout the protest, part of his ongoing effort to “bring awareness to lawful intent and how the public views Black people.” He wanted to make people uncomfortable so they open up their minds and realize that just because he has a gun, doesn’t mean he’s violent.
He says some individuals at the coffee shop gave him strange looks, but the majority were friendly, including some remaining police officers.
“Some of the patrolmen who were out on the street taking orders were just told that I’m a violent person. But then they see me go and sing karaoke, come up and shake my hand, and they realize, this is kind of ridiculous.”
Sullivan sang “Best I Ever Had” by Drake.
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