Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi and Police Chief Rich Ferguson, after two and possibly a third night of protests in downtown Provo over the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, issued a joint statement Tuesday.
“George Floyd’s voice was tragically silenced, even as he was pleading to be heard,” the statement said. “That silence has since been filled by national shouts of anger and frustration that are rightfully reaching to every community, including our own.”
The statement continues, “How better to show our shared contempt for this violent act than to make sure another voice is never silenced? All voices should be heard. That is the very premise upon which our country was created.”
Kaufusi and Ferguson agreed that Provo is committed to protecting the civil liberties of every citizen.
“This is not conveniently timed rhetoric, it is actually written in our Provo Police Department mission statement because they are NOT just words, it is our culture.”
Kaufusi and Ferguson note that commitment extends to the ongoing training of police officers on implicit bias, community policing and cultural diversity.
That training also includes the protection of those expressing their rights through peaceful protests.
“We are appreciative of our community’s ability to make an important statement without resorting to crime and violence. We hear your message,” the statement said.
The mayor and chief said they continually seek out opportunities to build and maintain the trust of the community.
“Our public safety professionals hold themselves to a higher standard,” the joint statement said. “When those standards are not upheld, we must, we can, and we will, do better. That is a promise to every citizen.”
Council Chairman George Handley offered his support and desire for peaceful solutions and civility through a statement read at the beginning of Tuesday’s council meeting.
“Let me start by saying that as a white man, I recognize the responsibility I have to acknowledge the many small and large ways in which I am advantaged in this society,” Handley said. “I feel it is my responsibility to be more aware of benefits that I don’t deserve and to do what I can to increase and equalize benefits for all.”
Handley said that he used to think racial relations were on a kind of inevitable track of improvement.
“I no longer believe that to be the case. Every generation must be vigilant,” Handley said. “To say that racial bias exists in our society is not to point fingers of blame at any one person or group of people. Indeed, it is simply to acknowledge the fundamental fact of our human propensity to judge and categorize people by their race, their language, their gender or sexuality, their religion, or their income level, their political affiliation or educational or professional backgrounds.”
Handley said that all are vulnerable to this “great flaw,” and while it isn’t always dangerous, at its worst it leads to violence and even death.
“We may not be able to escape bias entirely, but we can certainly become more aware of one another by listening, deliberately forging friendships across the various boundaries that divide us and seek and celebrate both the common ground we share with others and the wonderful differences we each bring to the table,” Handley said.
While the council did not see his statement, Handley did say he knows the council is united in its opposition to bigotry and racism and that they all strive as a council for a city community that is inclusive and welcoming of all people.
“We don’t always get this right as a city, but we as a council (and I know the administration feels similarly) are committed to working harder and to doing more to improve in this regard,” Handley said. “We are grateful for the protests we have seen here in Provo and we recognize the deep hurt and anxiety that inspired them.”
Handley said he participated in his first protest when he was 17 years old and it was both frightening and thrilling to engage in a public display of concern.
“This is a wonderful American tradition. We are especially grateful that the protests have been peaceful,” Handley said. “They have proven that protests don’t have to be violent to be heard.”
He noted his gratitude for both Kaufusi and Ferguson.
“Because we lost one of our officers, Officer Joseph Shinners just recently, with honor and gratitude we recognize that our police officers risk their lives every day for our safety,” Handley said. “We are immensely grateful for their service and do not take it for granted. I recently watched a video of a Provo police officer and a black protester hugging on Center Street and it made me proud of our community.”
Handley asked the residents be less reactive and resentful of situations that play out across the nation.
“With civility and compassion, let’s listen to the concerns right here among our own. If you don’t have friends who are of a different race or religion, get to work on changing that. If you don’t know an officer in Provo, start now to make those connections. If you don’t know our racial history as a country, commit to read and learn more.”
Handley said Provo is only as good as residents collectively decide they will be. He asked for more commitment, compassion, caring and to be inclusive and better listeners and to be slow to judge.