People of all ages filled the streets in front of the University of Utah on Oct. 7, but they were not there to watch the vice presidential debate.
For these protesters, getting their message across while in the national spotlight was far more important than what was happening at Kingsbury Hall.
Protesters from multiple groups like Students for a Democratic Society, Pro-life Utah, and Utah’s Armenian Community filled the streets with banners, megaphones, and other accessories. At times, the atmosphere felt more like a scene from prison, with intersections full of riot police, 12-foot-high fences, and what seemed like endless yelling.
Except for a few mild skirmishes between protesters, the protests remained peaceful, but the Salt Lake City Police Department and other accompanying agencies were not taking any chances. Armed in riot gear and carrying shotguns loaded with rubber bullets, dozens of police officers lined the streets and, at one point, completely shut down the intersection of 1300 E. and 200 S.
“Them [the police] being here makes tension squeeze tighter and tighter and tighter. They have all this riot gear and guns, and do you see us out here like that? No!” said Devonte, who did not provide his last name. “It’s all about Black lives mattering every single day and that not being negotiable.”
The police weren’t the only ones forming a line between the two main groups of protesters. Dozens of members from the Proud Boys Salt Lake City chapter could be seen linking arms, forming a wall and, at times, attempting to break up any arguments that seemed to become heated.
“We [the Proud Boys] are trying to keep the peace between both groups. I think the media is stirring the racial tensions in this country. Yes, there are things that need to change throughout the system, and I get that. I also understand their [Black Lives Matter] point of view because, yes, they do get profiled here in Salt Lake,” said Seth, the chapter’s president, who did not provide his last name.
Since the start of this pandemic, COVID-19 has always presented a threat. Yet, many times throughout the night, the scene on the streets looked like a screaming match between mask wearers and non-wearers. It became obvious that this pandemic was not a concern for a large number of attendees.
“You sound like an eighth-grade bully!” exclaimed Thurm Wisen as another protester taunted him for his use of a mask. “I just don’t want to get coronavirus, I’m only 18,” Wisen later commented.
Although masks were not one of the focuses of the protest, comments on the use or disuse of a mask could be heard throughout the crowd on multiple occasions.