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SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of protestors converged on the grounds of the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building on Monday to decry Salt Lake police officers' shooting of a 17-year-old boy over the weekend.
Utah Against Police Brutality organized the rally on behalf of Abdullahi Mohamed, who was shot Saturday in downtown Salt Lake. The group's leaders called for those gathered to apply political pressure on the Salt Lake City Council by calling for the city's Police Civilian Review Board members to be elected rather than appointed by the mayor after an application process.
"When lives in our community are at stake, what do we do?" Cary Haldeman, one of the group's organizers, asked those in attendance.
The protestors answered with a heated rally cry in unison with Haldeman: "Stand up, fight back."
Mohamed, a refugee who moved to Utah from Kenya 11 years ago, remains in critical condition after two officers opened fire on him on Rio Grande Street. Mohamed and another person were beating a man with "metal objects," but he continued to attack the man after officers ordered him to stop, prompting the shooting, Salt Lake police detective Greg Wilking has said.
Protest organizers disagreed with the characterization of the shooting by police, saying the shooting was an unlawful use of force that breached the trust of the city's residents.
"On Saturday night, a line was drawn," Utah Against Police Brutality member Michael Christian told those gathered. "Police on one side and the Salt Lake community on the other."
Mohamed was "not a threat to police officers," Christian said, to loud applause. He and others led several chants, including "Black lives matter," "Hands up, don't shoot," "These killer cops have got to go," and "No justice, no peace. No more killer police."
Detectives are investigating Mohamed for possible charges for the attack he was allegedly carrying out Saturday. Police said Monday that Mohamed is a gang member.
There were a few people at the protest who pushed back at the "Black lives matter" rallying cry. They yelled back, "Blue Lives Matter," in a reference to police, and "All lives matter."
Unified police are currently investigating the shooting of Mohamed in an independent review of whether it was justified. The agency's findings will be submitted to the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office for review.
The Salt Lake City Civilian Review Board, the Salt Lake Police Department's training unit and the department's Internal Affairs are also separately reviewing the shooting. The officers who fired their weapons are on administrative leave, per usual policy when an officer fires their weapon.
But those responses are not sufficient to restore the public's trust in Salt Lake police, Christian said. He wants the Civilian Review Board to be given more authority to shape the police department's policies "that define police behavior," he said.
"When do we want it? Now!" Christian said of that expanded power as protestors chanted the answer with him. "Not next year, not next month, not next week, not tomorrow."
Protest speakers also criticized the police response to witnesses of the shooting, some of whom allegedly threw rocks and bottles at officers. About 100 officers from various agencies were called to the scene, some of them donning riot shields.
"People in the crowd were angry. People were crying," said Gabriella Andersson, who lives near the where the shooting occurred, but she added that only "a few" were combative with police.
Andersson said she believes officers' heavy presence at the incident was excessive.
"We have the right to rebel," she said.
Deeda Seed, a one-time Salt Lake City councilwoman who is also the former chief of staff for Mayor Rocky Anderson, spoke at the protest and urged those in attendance to show up at City Council meetings. Doing so is necessary to show city officials that residents are serious about seeing police reform, she said.
"We need to stick together," Seed told the demonstrators. "We want them to be peace officers that work for us. We need accountability."
Contributing: Nicole Vowell, Andrew Adams