[Maggie McGuire / Moab Sun News]

Despite wind and rain, hundreds of people turned out to protest racial injustice in America on June 5 in Moab. For hours, people marched down Center and Main streets and held signs with slogans reading “Black Lives Matter” and decrying police assaults on people of color.

Similar protests have been occurring in both large and small towns nationwide for over ten days, sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who widely-viewed video footage shows died while a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. While not the first time footage of police violence against black civilians has gained national attention, Floyd’s death has touched off a conversation that has now reached all the way to the nation’s capital.

Moab speaks out

“This turnout is amazing,” said Ash Howe, standing at the edge of a large crowd facing Main Street, chanting along to the rhythm of drummers in the crowd. Howe was clearly overwhelmed by the number of people who had come to speak out.

Spurred by the death of George Floyd, the sixteen-year-old Moabite organized small demonstrations outside the Moab Information Center every day for a week. After over 150 people attended a candlelight vigil held by Moab Pride on June 2, Howe joined Pride representatives to hold the rally.

“It’s so good to see so many people here care and want to make a change,” Howe said.

“I’m so proud of our community right now,” said Moab Pride’s Desirae Miller, her voice hoarse. Both Howe, Miller and Cal Bulmash from Moab Pride gave short speeches at the rally and led protesters in a memorial: nine minutes of silence to mark George Floyd’s death.

Response from City Government

“I think it went exceptionally well,” said Moab Police Chief Bret Edge, “and that’s really a credit to the protestors who were extremely respectful to the community.”

“It was peaceful and it was fantastic,” said Edge.

Moab police officers attended the rally, blocking cars during the march and rerouting Main Street traffic while people occupied the major intersection of Center and Main to demonstrate.

Edge and Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus had released a statement in support of protests nationwide. The statement, released on June 4, says that the city and police department support efforts to reform police enforcement in the United States and outlines some of the ways the Moab Police Department has tried to address the issues.

“The roots of that statement are that we knew we needed to address the nationwide unrest and let the community know where we stand on these matters,” said Edge.

“We spent some time working on that statement, really making sure that it was something that city staff felt good about and that the police department can put into action,” said Niehaus. Local community organizations were not consulted on the statement, though both Niehaus and Edge said that the city and police department had strong ties to local groups.

“There are a lot of conversations we are going to have going forward,” said Edge, who affirmed that the police department was moving forward on policy reviews and changes in light of the increased attention to racism and excessive force issues. Training on implicit bias, or unconscious racism, will be made mandatory every year for Moab PD officers.

“I don’t feel like our officers have succumbed to implicit bias as we’ve seen in other areas of the country, but regardless it’s something that we have to be aware of,” said Edge.

The department will also reschedule a training on de-escalation for officers, which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re constantly evaluating our policy and procedures,” said Edge. He noted that the Moab Police Department’s current guidelines on police use-of-force are largely in line with the #8CantWait movement, which is advocating for eight policy changes local police departments can make to address abuses.

The eight recommended policy changes are: banning the use of chokeholds, requiring the use of de-escalation techniques, requiring warnings before shooting a weapon, requiring that all other alternatives to force be tried first, requiring officers intervene when seeing police abuse, banning shooting at moving vehicles, requiring policy that has a “use-of-force continuum,” and mandating that local departments have comprehensive and public records of any use-of-force incidents.

“Our use-of-force policy is very consistent with these recommendations,” said Edge. The Moab Police Department’s policies were not received by the Moab Sun News by press time but will be examined in a future issue.

“I’m proud that we’re right in line with what is looking to become industry standard,” said Edge.

“We are, as fast as any governmental organization can, moving on this issue,” he said.

City, Moab PD issue statement in support