On June 29, in Provo, Utah, one of the most conservative cities in the country, counterprotest boldly outnumbered a far-right “Back the Blue” rally.
However, in the aftermath of the event, the corporate media and its local Utah affiliates have overinflated a single event that occurred at the protest — an act of self-defense against a car that drove into protesters. This has served the dual purpose of emboldening the far right to come out against the next rally for Black Lives, planned for tomorrow, and obscuring the real liberatory politics of the protest with a narrative of fear and violence.
But what actually happened?
Many expected that the “Back the Blue” rally would draw out a larger number of people and the counterprotest would be rather small. However, as protesters arrived at the Provo Police Department headquarters, virtually all of the protesters present represented the movement for Black lives.
Organizers addressed specific events of police brutality around the nation and in Utah. One such case is Darrien Hunt, who was shot by Saratoga Springs police in the back while cosplaying with a plastic sword in 2014. Another case is Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, who was shot more than 20 times in the back by Salt Lake City police just last month.
After rousing speeches, chants, and a blessing from a local First Nations’ activist, the crowd of counterprotestors took to the streets with chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace, No Killer Police” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” The crowd marched east on Center street blocking traffic and pausing at intersections to hold the space for several minutes.
Along the way, one car attempted to drive into protesters but was stopped by a mass of bodies. The crowd continued, emboldened, to the central intersection of Provo at University and Center Street.
Here, protesters took control of the intersection, allowing buses and other official vehicles to pass through. After holding the intersection for 15 minutes, a large truck attempted to drive through the wall of protesters. One woman was knocked to the ground and nearly run over. At this point, an armed person at the protest fired into the car, and one occupant in the vehicle was non-critically wounded.
Local news outlets have focused on this specific moment and ignored the fact that the well-organized crowd continued to hold intersections for another 45 minutes (with at least one more car attempting to drive through protesters). This protest was truly historic for Provo — on no other occasion have protesters shut down traffic and disrupted normal life in this way.
The main story here is not that someone fired a weapon, but that protesters were able to make their voices heard louder than ever in an ultra-conservative city in a state with a history of white supremacy and racism against Black and Indigenous people.
Organizers emphasized that, although a gun was fired, at least five drivers attempted to use their vehicles as lethal weapons against protesters over the course of the night.
For the previous month, Utah Valley PSL has picketed downtown, demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Darrien Hunt and Bernardo Palacio and received significant shows of support from people in the community. The PSL is co-hosting tomorrow’s rally, alongside Insurgence, Salt Lake City Antifascist Coalition, and other groups. Contact the PSL to get involved!