‘I can do something about it now’; protesters have heart-to-heart with St. George mayor, police officials

ST. GEORGE — The protests in memory of George Floyd and in support of Black Lives Matter continued on Saturday as protesters gathered at the corner of St. George Boulevard and 200 East and then marched to Town Square. There, St. George Mayor Jon Pike and the organizers of the protest spoke to the crowd before there was a question and answer with the mayor and St. George Police Lt. Johnny Heppler.

Mayor Jon Pike addresses the crowd of protesters in the Town Square on Saturday in St. George, Utah, June 6, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News

The protesters organized and their size grew from roughly 100 people to about 200-plus people. There were a dozen counter-protesters present but both sides remained peaceful.

When 7 p.m. hit, the protesters began their march towards the Town Square, where there were various speeches from organizers and the mayor.

Pike began his speech by speaking about his two years of missionary service in South Africa, bringing up the apartheid and racism that was shown in South Africa at the time.

“I couldn’t fully comprehend what my black brothers and sisters knew and felt in their oppressed society and I couldn’t do much about it,” Pike said. “Today I still can’t fully understand what my black brothers and sisters feel but as the mayor of St. George I can do something about it now.”

Pike then emphasized that he will do all that he can along with his colleagues to facilitate change, inclusivity and respect in the community. He added that as a city, they are committed to listening more to gain greater empathy for all people.

Protesters gather on St. George Boulevard before marching to Town Square on Saturday in St. George, Utah, June 6, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News

He also pledged to increase their understanding and treat everyone with dignity and respect.

“We are saddened and horrified by the tragic and senseless murder of George Floyd. The city of St. George stands united in our condemnation of racism in any form and at this time, especially against the racist behavior toward our black community. Let me be absolutely clear, there is no place within this city for discrimination and racist attitudes.”

One of the topics of the mayor’s speech to the group of protestors was to look into the operations and training of the police force to eliminate discriminatory practices. This was also another topic talked about during the question and answer part of the protest.

Heppler answered a question from one protester on the idea of improving training. Pike then added that they would be taking a look into how they could improve their training for the police force and would follow up on the discussion in three months.

Another protester asked about de-escalation training for police officers and Heppler explained what they are aiming to do with their de-escalation training and some background information on the trainings.

Protesters take a knee for eight minutes, 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd on Saturday in St. George, Utah, June 6, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News

Another protester asked how the mayor and Heppler are working to end discrimination in their own homes, outside of their work lives. Both stressed the idea of equality and mentioned that they have had talks with their children about the very issue the protest is about.

The protesters and the mayor, as well as the officers on hand, had a healthy discussion about the concerns at hand. The organizers of the protest even stepped away to have a conversation with some of the counter-protesters who had arrived and had been at the Town Square during the end of the protest.

Nick Poullard, one of the organizers, talked about his personal experiences with racism while making it known that the city needs the mayor to make a push towards better practices surrounding racial discrimination.

“I talked to the mayor and he asked me what the young community needs,” Poullard said. “I said we need you, you’re our leader we’re looking to you. The one thing I want our mayor to do is really take initiative and take accountability for all of our lives.”

He added that it is not about making America great again but it is about a new America.

The overarching theme of the day was peace. When Heppler spoke to the crowd of protesters where the protest began, he emphasized being uplifting and allowing everyone their right to protest as a part of the First Amendment.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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