Two vehicles burned and an officer’s gun partially melted into a downtown street on Saturday.
Salt Lake City more resembled the chaos of what I have seen on the news for decades in situations like these, but never expected to see in a city I know so well.
What began as peaceful protests organized by Utah Against Police Brutality — motivated by the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd — quickly devolved into chaos and danger after a police vehicle was overturned, looted and set ablaze.
As I sat in the KSL newsroom, watching five different reporters in the field, I felt fear. Not the fear you experience when skydiving or finding a spider in your bathtub, but a paralyzing fear that seeps into every thought and action — fear for my family, my city, my coworkers and my country.
As tensions increased, protesters moved from the downtown library to the Utah State Capitol. Utah Highway Patrol troopers formed a line at the steps in front of the building and met the growing masses as they advocated for justice.
Watching a significant group of people — most peaceful, but some with ill intention — terrified me. As the crowds moved, they tagged graffiti on buildings, both commercial and private, before heading into a neighborhood that I call my home. I was unsure if they would stop at the Capitol or continue into the homes and apartments that occupy the hills nearby.
After 20-30 minutes at the Capitol, most protesters returned downtown to Library Square, where the situation was steadily deteriorating.
Over a period of 1-2 hours, officers began arriving to restore order. Salt Lake, West Valley and Unified Police departments were the first on scene, followed by units from across the Wasatch Front.
I looked on as officers formed a defensive line, while the crowd swelled and seemed to become increasingly agitated. Protesters hurled water bottles, rocks, knives, fireworks, and other objects at the officers, the media and each other. It was the definition of a powder keg waiting for a spark.
That spark came when a man wielding a bow and arrow attempted to fire into the crowd and was subdued and beaten by protesters before police were able to remove him.
Fortunately, that spark did not ignite. Perhaps, it was the short, heavy downpour, or maybe the incredible restraint from police and peaceful protesters throughout the crowd. Tensions ebbed and flowed for several hours, but never boiled over.
The crowd fully dispersed near 11 p.m. — a full eight hours after the initial burning of the police vehicle and nearly 11 hours since the protests began.
A long night left me nervous for what I would see in the morning. Amazingly, strength and comradery were already showing as I walked the Capitol grounds just after 9 a.m. Professional cleaning crews, volunteers and police came together to clean remnants of an ugly evening.
I must admit, I was filled with pride for the way residents of Salt Lake responded in this moment of need.
May 30, 2020, is a day that will live in infamy for Utah. All told, 46 arrests were made — most for failure to disperse — and 21 police officers were injured.
I hope all of this was not in vain. I hope that Salt Lake suffered in advance of future growth and improved understanding and treatment of all people, no matter their race. As a society, we must cast aside our differences and focus on what bring us together: humanity.
Hate divides us, but love and understanding can bring us together.