Black Lives Matter has taken to the streets of Utah and they’re here to stay

Story and photos by FAYE BARNHURST

SALT LAKE CITY – On Aug. 27 of this year, nearly 400 Utahns gathered on the University of Utah’s campus to protest a speech by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. Protesters marched from the Park Building to the Behavioral Sciences Building, shouting phrases such as “Hate speech is not welcome here” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ben Shapiro has got to go.” The protest was organized by Black Lives Matter Utah (BLM), an activist organization that has been making waves in the community and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.

“We’ve been here for years,” says Black Lives Matter Utah founder Lex Scott, “but we just didn’t have any people or press. But now Utah has discovered that we’re here, so it looks like we’ll actually get some things done.”

After the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012, “#BlackLivesMatter” began to circulate on the internet. The hashtag sparked a national movement that altered the political climate of the nation and made Americans reevaluate race-relations in the United States. Since its inception, Black Lives Matter has utilized social media and direct action to raise awareness of issues facing African-Americans.

The organization has over 40 independent chapters across the country that each focus on their own regional issues. Earlier this year, the FBI categorized Black Lives Matter as a “Black Identity Extremist organization.” Local activist, Lex Scott, who was just named Utah’s “best tireless advocate” by Salt Lake City Weekly, decided to start the Utah chapter after seeing footage of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, being choked to death by a Staten Island police officer. “I saw the video and thought ‘Okay, that’s enough. We’re going to stop this. We’re going to do something,’” says Scott.

In collaboration with Utah Against Police Brutality, Black Lives Matter Utah has held several rallies and protests calling for justice for victims of police brutality, such as Abdullahi “Abdi” Mohamed and Darrien Hunt.

“The necessity for a Black Lives Matter chapter in Utah unveils itself in the mere fact that it garners death threats to families of their organizers for the same sort of work that UAPB has been doing for years without any of the same hostility,” says Jacob Jensen, an organizer for Utah Against Police Brutality. 

Both activist groups have been pressuring local legislators to change police body camera policies. After Salt Lake issued an executive order last month that stipulates a 10-day delay on the release of police body camera footage where an officer injures or kills someone, both groups held a protest and sit-in at the Salt Lake City and Council Building to demand that the footage be released within 24 hours of the incident.  

Along with working to end police brutality, Black Lives Matter Utah also addresses other forms of racism.

“Black Lives Matter is all about inclusivity,” says TK Flory, one of the first BLM activists in Los Angeles. “Thinking about systemic oppression, economic oppression, political oppression, systems that uphold white supremacy – these affect everybody in some way, especially black people.”

One of Black Lives Matter Utah’s biggest successes in combating systemic racism is getting Steve Smith, a former Sandy City Council Member, voted out of office for making racist comments about African-Americans. The group canvassed, created a call bank, and even went on the news to get Smith removed.

The organization is also promoting its fourth annual Black Friday Black Out Boycott, to counter systemic barriers that limit black entrepreneurs. Members of Black Lives Matter will boycott all major Black Friday sales, and instead only shop at black-owned businesses. This action is intended to be a rejection of the economic racism facing black people in the United States.

In addition Black Lives Matter Utah opposes mass incarceration, the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and housing and wage discrimination. They advocate for fair and impartial juries, transparency between police and citizens, and adequate political representation for all marginalized groups of the community.

To encourage students to join and lead the movement, they have recently started working with Students for a Democratic Society, a radically progressive student-activist group on the U’s campus. 

The group already has more than 1,500 members on Facebook and is currently setting up new chapters all over the state to draw in support and gain influence in Utah. 

“Black Lives Matter Utah is important because Utah is only two percent black, which means there is just a tiny percent of black representation here, so there’s not a lot of black leadership here,” says Lex Scott. “Most perceptions of the black community come from the media and television where we are painted as unintelligent, ignorant thugs. If there’s a place that needs a Black Lives Matter chapter, Utah is the place.”

With the goal of bringing attention to the issues facing black people in Utah and pursuing equal rights for all, Black Lives Matter is a growing voice in the community.


Reflection Blog

Human Dignity Rally Urges Utahans to Be Politically Active

On February 29, in the looming granite rotunda of the Utah State Capitol Building, a crowd of about 100 people gathered brimming with a determined energy. News reporters were present, email sign-up sheets were passed around the rally and a range of signs were hoisted in the air, stating things like “Str8 but not narrow,” “Human dignity is for all of us,” and “I am not a second class citizen.” The rally was a ‘human dignity rally’ organized by the newly birthed group Human Dignity Utah, founded by Weston Clark, Bob Henline, Megan Risbon and Alan Anderson.

Clark, a teacher and former chair of the Utah Democratic Party, said the purpose of their group is to finally bring equal rights to all Utahans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We have to be quick, we have to be proactive, and we have to let them know they can’t walk all over us,” Clark said to the gathered crowd.

Two recent bills regarding state-wide non-discrimination policies have both been tabled, one aimed at statewide nondiscrimination regarding housing and jobs, and the other aimed at promoting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) sensitivity training for the State Legislature.

According to recent surveys, 73 percent of Utahans support this legislation, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and the Catholic Diocese of Utah have both come out in favor of the legislation. Companies like Adobe, EBay and 1-800-Contacts have also said they support equality and non-discrimination in Utah.

These measures are being taken to the Utah Legislature amid national debate on the issues of same-sex marriage and LGBT equality. In recent news, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington have all legalized same-sex marriage, which brings the total up to 17 states that have legalized same-sex marriage or unions granting similar rights to marriage.

“We’re always hitting the same wall,” Matthew Lyon, who attended the rally, said, referring to opponents of the anti-discrimination measures. Fourteen municipalities across the state have adopted similar measures, including cities like Salt Lake City, Taylorsville and Logan. “I’m optimistic that we will break down that wall, and I want to be here when it happens.”

Speakers at the rally included Jim Dabakis, current chair of the Democratic Party, Former State Representative Jackie Biskupski, Charles Lynn Frost as his theatrical character Sister Dottie S. Dixon, Kathy Godwin, president of SLC PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and Isaac Higham, a young graduate student at Utah State University.

“I have heard too many times people my age say ‘it’s not my issue’ or ‘I’ll let someone else get involved’. No- we all need to be active,” Higham said amid cheers.

In 2012 Utah elections, only 10 percent of registered voters in the 18-24 year old range actually went to the polls and cast their vote, one of the lowest turn-outs nationwide. Higham cited this fact in urging the crowd to be politically charged. The speakers all carried similar messages of political activism, determination and hope for change.

“Barriers are not as formidable as they seem,” Rep. Biskupski said in reference to opponents in the legislature to non-discrimination policies.

Rap Biskupski also detailed delegate training. Delegates are the backbone of the democratic process in Utah: they attend caucuses and officially vote for our elected officials. Delegate meetings will occur on March 13th for the Democratic Party and March 22nd for the Republican Party.  More information on where those trainings will take place can be found at and respectively.

Birth Control is Least Important Issue in 2012 Election, Poll Suggests

by Mark LeBaron

A recent Gallup poll shows policies concerning birth control lag behind other political issues for the 2012 election amongst registered voters.

Healthcare, unemployment and the federal budget were a few of the issues that had more “extremely” and “very important” responses in the poll, which was conducted March 25-26 with a random sample of 901 registered voters.

The results didn’t surprise many people.

“Birth control is a personal choice and shouldn’t really be an issue right now” said Danny Gonzalez, a financial planner. “In the state we are in right now, we need to focus on unemployment and the federal budget.”

Others put healthcare as their most important issue. Recently, the Supreme Court has begun examining to see if the Affordable Healthcare Act is constitutional. Its constitutionality hinges on if the government can mandate that every citizen either have health insurance or suffer a fine.

“The healthcare bill must be struck down as being unconstitutional,” said Forrest Kelsey, a student studying psychology at Utah Valley University. “The bill will be like the federal budget; spending money we do not have.”

Current presidential candidates have been campaigning hard on these issues. Seven months from the national election, many people may not know whom they will vote for.

“I haven’t decided who I am going to vote for yet,” said Alex Germane, a mechanical engineering major at the University of Texas-San Antonio. “I want a president who is respectful and honorable.”

Gonzalez echoed Germane’s sentiments.

“The media is never going to give a pure opinion about a candidate. I have to do my own research,” said Gonzalez.

There are still many things to come forth from this year’s campaigning and elections.

The poll has a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percent. To access this and other polls, visit