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The shooting death of an unarmed man leads to several days of riots and mayhem in Ferguson, Missouri, while the same type of shooting in Salt Lake City leads essentially to silence. Why? Why would Salt Lake City residents not raise up, protest or even riot over an extremely similar situation?
Dillon Taylor, a 20 year old man walking with friends through a 7-11 parking lot, headphones on, was shot to death on August 11, 2014 by officers of the Salt Lake City Police Department. He was not armed. He did have a $25,000 bench warrant for a probation violation (click this link for the story from the Salt Lake Tribune dated August 18, 2014), however he was not committing any act of illegal act other than walking in Salt Lake City and was never known to carry a gun. The shooting of Danielle Willard (an unarmed woman sitting in a vehicle, shot in the back of head) and the shooting of a dog, Sean Kendall’s beloved Geist, in Salt Lake City also demonstrate the dichotomy of Utah.
In Danielle’s case, some protesters have held a few vigils, however no large rallies or protests, while the supports of Geist and his owner, Sean Kendall, engaged people by the thousands. Supports of Geist have recently attended Salt Lake City Council meetings in an effort to change the policies of the Salt Lake City Police Department, and members of Danielle’s family continue to fight for the appropriate punishment not only for the cowardly ex-cop Shaun Cowley, but for his partner as well, Kevin Salmon, and the entire Narcotics Department (now defunct) of the West Valley City Police Department. Where is the outrage for Dillon and Danielle?
Another important aspect that ties each of these tragic murders is that they are each, in a way, a victim on the tragically failed “War On Drugs.” Danielle was suspected of drug possession and Michael Brown tested positive for marijuana. All of these victims were brutally murdered by officers who appear to have overreacted and made poor judgement calls. Shaun Cowley (who shot Danielle Willard in the back of her head while she was seated in her vehicle, unarmed) was recently charged with Manslaughter. Should Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson also be charged in the killing of Michael Brown and if so, with what? What will the West Valley Police Department, the Salt Lake City Police Department and now the Ferguson Police Department experience in real change of the policies and procedures that enabled these officers to shoot to kill?
A third issue to consider is that of race and religion. Does the outrage exhibited in Ferguson express the rage of the African American community and why is there not similar outrage in Utah, with two recent deaths? Does it have something to do with the religion of the majority of the state, the Mormons?
A final point is documentation. The officer who shot Dillon was wearing a camera and, according to SLCPD Chief Chris Burbank, the video will be released pending the completion of their investigation (click this link for access to the video from KUTV News dated 8/19/2014 of the “chat” the chief had last week with regards to the militarization of the SLCPD in addition to the Ferguson murders and riots). Some protests in Salt Lake City have been held, such as the “Demand Justice March: Mike Brown/Dillon Taylor/Danielle Willard,” held August 25th at the downtown library, but nothing compared to the rallies, protests and looting of Ferguson.
Many of these questions may never be answered, but the issue of police militarization, the war on drugs and the killing of young people continues, and the real key may appear in November, during the next election cycle.
For previous Ladybud articles about victims in the War on Drugs, click here.