Police Pepper Spray, Beat, and Arrest Peaceful Demonstrators in Cottonwood Heights, Utah

CONTENT AND TRIGGER WARNING: police brutality, police violence, strong language

On Sunday, August 2, 2020, people gathered at Mill Hollow Park in Cottonwood Heights, Utah for the weekly “Dance Dance for Revolution” march. These marches take place every Sunday at different locations around Salt Lake City and surrounding areas. One can enjoy singing, dancing, water guns, and chanting for social justice at these rallies and people of all ages are invited to attend. It is not unusual to find small children at this event, and the march on August 2, 2020 was no exception. Children joined their parents, friends, and neighbors to fight against police brutality. Unfortunately, those children soon became witnesses and victims of police brutality.

“Dance Dance for Revolution” March Poster

Officers from the Cottonwood Heights Police Department and other police departments in the greater Salt Lake City area surrounded the demonstration only minutes after the music began and the people started marching down a residential street near Mill Hollow Park. The march was brought to a sudden stop when officers began their planned attack on demonstrators.

Shouts from police officers commanding protestors to get out of the street and onto the sidewalks could be heard over the sound of music coming from the march. Demonstrators split, some going to the sidewalk on the left side of the street and others going to the sidewalk on the right side of the street while cops marched down the center of the street with zip tie handcuffs in hand. Only a short moment later, the attacks by police officers started.

Officers began handcuffing protestors, beating them with batons, and spraying them with pepper spray all at once. In a Facebook Live video, one officer is seen body-slamming a protestor to the ground in a nearby driveway as another officer sprays protestors directly in the face with pepper spray in order to prevent them from rescuing the victim. It wasn’t long before cops began carting away protestors in handcuffs and loading them into patrol cars. Two of the protestors that were severely assaulted and arrested were the brother and father of the late Zane James, a 19-year-old murdered by the Cottonwood Heights Police Department in 2018. As the brother of Zane James was taken away in handcuffs, he asked officers, “Will you shoot me in the back like you did my brother?” Soon after, Zane’s father shouted, “My son is dead! My son is dead!” as police aggressively pushed him toward a patrol car after arresting him. Cottonwood Heights City Councilwoman Tali Bruce, who was present at the march, went live on Facebook to inform the public of the injuries she personally suffered and witnessed other people suffering at the hands of the police at the march. She speaks of watching Zane’s father being brutalized by police before they arrested him. In total, eight protestors were arrested at the march.

Zane James, 19-year-old shot and killed by Cottonwood Heights Police Department in 2018.

Not only were people taken into custody, but vehicles were as well. Multiple tow trucks accompanied the squadron of cop cars in order to impound vehicles that were driving along with the crowd during the march. As a result of vehicles being impounded, protestors were left stranded near Mill Hollow Park.

The Cottonwood Heights Police Department was not the only police department present at this march. The Sandy City Police Department, West Jordan Police Department, Salt Lake City Police Department, Murray Police Department, and the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake (which is a police department that “serves many Salt Lake County cities and communities” and utilizes various “police services such as SWAT, forensics, records, and dispatch under one organization”) were also present. Many officers were dressed in full riot gear including shields, helmets, and rubber bullet guns. Cop cars from at least six different departments lined the street in both directions. The amount of officers that showed up to the demonstration far outnumbered the amount of protestors.

It is clear that this event on Sunday, August 2, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah would have remained peaceful had law enforcement not arrived and incited violence. The First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly were grossly violated by the multiple police departments present at this event. This demonstration created to speak out against police brutality in Utah becomes yet another example of police brutality in Utah.

Many videos of this “Dance Dance for Revolution” march and the police brutality that occurred can be found on Facebook. Go to the Facebook page @justiceforbernardo to watch the videos from this event as well as other videos showing instances of police brutality in the greater Salt Lake City area. 

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