Sitting on my front porch, staring at my laptop, unsure of what to say.
I don’t know how to write about the protest that took place in downtown Salt Lake City on May 30. The one that began with hundreds of masked individuals in the streets surrounding the Salt Lake City Police Department or honking in their vehicles.
The one that was supposed to last for an hour and a half, but instead went into the night as the National Guard was called in and a city-wide curfew was set in place.
I’m not sure how to write about something that I don’t know enough about.
Even though I was there, I’ve read the articles, seen the videos, liked the Facebook posts – I don’t know enough about this because I am not black.
I don’t know what it’s like to have a racial slur yelled at me as I walk down a public street. I don’t know what it’s like to fear for my life as I get pulled over for a routine traffic violation. And I don’t know what it’s like to be killed by the people who are supposed to protect me like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless more.
While I may never be able to fully empathize with my black brothers and sisters, I know people who can. My aunt knows the embarrassment and anger of being yelled at on a street in Salt Lake. One of my best friends knows the fear of driving her car that had its plates stolen last week.
Although I could never experience the lives of these people, I had the opportunity to use my voice and my car’s horn Saturday morning. I painted “Black Lives Matter” on my back window and blasted Childish Gambino’s “This is America” for the students, couples, and grocery store employees to sing and march to.
While I don’t know enough about a lot of things, I do know that for the time I was present in front of the SLCPD, things were strong and loud and empowering.
A stranger let me, and several others, use car paint to make signs. I was never once unable to change lanes because the cars around me verbally asked if I needed to get over. Those in charge of the protest from Utah Against Police Brutality regulated traffic with fists raised in the air.
However, the kindness and support shown from these individuals does not mean that they weren’t hurt and angry – how could they not be?
Hours after I had come home, satisfied and surprised by the number of folks to gather downtown, my dad told me to look at the news.
A police car was flipped over as rich, gray smoke poured out of it. The capitol, building blocks away from my home, was tagged with colorful graffiti. A white man pointed a bow and arrow at protesters and was tackled to the ground on film.
It looked so different from my empowering car ride earlier that morning. What happened?
Isn’t it hypocritical to protest violence through more violence? Doesn’t this do more harm than good? How could this happen in the place I call home?
It’s easy for me to be shocked because earlier that morning things felt peaceful and powerful. It’s easy to be shocked because I’m white and this kind of violence is something I’ve never experienced before. I’ve never had to be afraid of the police before.
For black individuals, this protest was about fighting for their lives and getting justice for those already lost.
Who am I to dictate how the oppressed demonstrate their rage and fight for the justice they have deserved their entire lives? Who am I to value property over the hundreds of black lives lost in the last few years? Who am I to criticize an entire community for the actions of a few people?
I am not the person to do that, nor am I going to become one of them.
But before I had time to answer these questions, I saw something much more disturbing: a lot of the violence and agitation on Saturday did not come from black individuals pushing against oppression – it came from bored white people.
It came from the people who were supposed to show up to be a support system, not put the lives of others at risk. It came from people who ignored the begging and pleading to stop before someone got shot.
How can black lives matter if their screaming voices aren’t heard at their own protest?
This violence also came from the police. The police, who could have shown their solidarity, instead recklessly pushed over a harmless elderly man, only to try and help him back up.
As of publication of this article, the white man who threatened to shoot a crowd of people with a bow and arrow is not in custody, nor has he been charged. Conversely, George Floyd passed a counterfeit $20 bill and was murdered.
I really don’t know how to express the fluctuating amounts of joy, strength, and sadness that I feel about May 30, but I do know that it’s not always my place to. This protest was not about me.
I know that as a white person, my job is to show support when needed and use my privilege to help those who suffer without it. By acting as a guest, rather than a leader, I will strengthen and uplift the movement as a whole.
I don’t know why the exact events of Saturday’s protest happened. I don’t know the motives of every single attendee or every single police officer.
But listen when I say that I know and must remember that Saturday’s protest started with a reason: Black Lives Matter.
Story and photos by: Amanda Walton