(TMU) Op Ed – One would imagine that with nearly the entire country awash in raging unrest over allegations of police brutality, impunity, and abuse, police officers would be a little more careful and deliberate in their interactions with citizens.
One would imagine.
However, in seemingly utter disregard for the popular mood – as well as nearby news cameras – the Salt Lake City Police Department has sparked the anger of residents after an officer clad in riot gear was captured on film shoving an elderly man walking with the assistance of a cane to the ground after the senior failed to comply with barked order to leave.
Salt Lake City cops shove down an elderly man with a cane for the crime of standing along the street: pic.twitter.com/PCLkHqQtJg
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) May 31, 2020
As events in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, began to take a violent turn Saturday amid police attempts to suppress raucous protests, ABC4 cameras were on the scene reporting live as officers in heavy tactical gear began to arrive.
It was at that point when one of the armor-clad officers began to shove the grey-haired man with his shield. The man, who appeared to be an onlooker uninvolved in demonstrations, clearly had trouble walking but the officer persisted in shoving him down to the concrete.
During the live broadcast, reporter Nicole Neuman said:
“Sadly, a man was just knocked off his feet.”
Likely aware that cameras were rolling and the incident would not be a good look for local police, another cop walked up to the man and pulled him back to his feet.
Video of the incident has since been viewed millions of times, renewing accusations of police brutality by Salt Lake City police in particular and cops across the United States, in general.
Watching live feed local ABC affiliate, city center Salt Lake City. Police identified as SWAT team, got out of vehicles and immediately knocked a grey haired man using a cane, to the ground for no apparent reason. WHY?? @slcpolice pic.twitter.com/N4WxrCTpXm
— SkyeMartin (@skye_rtin) May 30, 2020
Reactions from social media were swift, with one Twitter user commenting:
“Reason why there should be better psychological testing for officers. Obviously the shoving officer is stressed out. He has no place in a situation like this. If he can’t control his emotions, he should find a job he can handle. Unacceptable behavior.”
Another user commented on the irony of the ABC4 chyron reading “PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT” despite the obvious fact that the police themselves, rather than protesters, were the perpetrators of the violence captured in the clip. The user asked, “Are these your ‘courageous offices’?”
Look at these Salt Lake City cops come up behind an elderly man with a cane and throw him to the ground for no reason whatsoever.
Are these your "courageous officers"?
Also see how a Salt Lake City news channel captions this senseless brutality as: "Protests Turn Violent" pic.twitter.com/4R3sI0JXVW
— Ryan Adams 🎞️🏳️🌈 (@filmystic) May 31, 2020
On Sunday evening, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown issued a video statement addressing the disturbing footage. Describing the incident as “inappropriate,” Brown said that the unnamed officer would be investigated by internal affairs as well as by the Civilian Review Board.
Saturday’s protests that rocked SLC were a rare sight for the typically conservative Utah capital and mecca of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). During the protests, 46 people were arrested, mostly for failure to obey dispersal orders. A police squad car was set on fire, as was a vehicle belonging to a motorist who threatened protesters with a compound bow and arrow.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced a curfew lasting from Saturday night until 6 a.m. Monday morning. The state’s National Guard was also deployed to the city to prevent further mass protests from occurring.
Expressing sadness Sunday over the previous night’s violent events, Mendenhall said that no one on her staff could remember the last time the city was placed under such a curfew.
However, local advocacy group Utah Against Police Brutality issued a statement accusing the city of failing to rein in police offers who kill local residents, as well as a failure to address complaints of routine brutality and racist treatment of residents. The group wrote:
“Mayor Mendenhall said that the events around the May 30th protest aren’t what justice looks like … We agree. This is what a demand looks like, a demand that can’t be ignored any longer. Justice would have been enacting real police reform, firing killer cops, addressing the systemic and constant racism. Justice would have been addressing the economic inequality, wage theft, exploitation and poverty that plague every worker.
… And yet here we are, with several Utah police shootings in just the last week and many more acts of police brutality on May 30. We demand officials to finally listen to the people and do something. The time for community control of the police is now!”
UAPB Statement on May 30 National Day of Protest in Salt Lake CIty This is what happens when elected officials, police…
Theresa Martinez, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the violence that took place on Saturday was unsurprising, especially given the problems of “generations” of local police brutality and the coronavirus pandemics disproportionate impact on people of color and the resulting exacerbation of existing inequalities. She added:
“And then [there is] the fact that everyone is already on edge from being stuck in their homes.”