SALT LAKE CITY — A group of about 150 people walked across Library Square late Saturday afternoon, past a faded chalk message written on the ground that said, "The only thing I have to do is stay black and die," and told police they trust them and want to work with them.
Kamaal S. Ahmad and Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown hugged, and committed to working together toward reform.
"We're going into a lot of unknown territory. I mean, if you look across our country, no one knows what that looks like," Ahmad told KSL.com. "But we're going to figure it out here. We're going to do it together. … We're going to put our heads together and we're going to figure this out."
Shortly before the trek to the public safety building, about a dozen armored vehicles drove west on 500 South, away from the direction of the public safety building.
Unity and accountability were Ahmad’s message Saturday. Ahmad, a local teacher and coach who organized the protest, said he supports law enforcement because they have earned his trust. He doesn’t support recent protests that have called for defunding or abolishing police departments. Last week, when protesters flipped and burned a police car, Ahmad said he felt law enforcement was "attacked."
Our Chief! https://t.co/wKczIwVe5T— Kamaal S. Ahmad (@CoachKAhmad) June 7, 2020
"I want everyone to understand where I stand. We can have a difference of opinion," he said. "That's where I stand. I trust them. They have earned my trust and it's my duty to do what is right, and that's what I believe."
Minutes earlier, Ahmad, a former Weber State assistant football coach who will be an assistant junior high principal this fall, addressed a crowd of roughly 150 people, telling them to work toward mutual accountability. Accountability for the public, and accountability and transparency for police. Utah is the first state he’s lived in — of four — where he said he’s felt like police have treated him like a human. It’s still not perfect, he said, but it’s better. He challenged the crowd to find a better police force to work with. Utah, he said, could set a historic precedent for reform.
But, he said, there has to be trust.
Several Muslim faith leaders, as well as retired Calvary Baptist Church Rev. France A. Davis, spoke and prayed at the gathering. Speakers talked about racial inequity in society, called for justice for those wronged by police, and also expressed hope that change was possible.
In some ways, the people who showed up Saturday were driven by their faith.
Salma Djalal, a senior at Academy for Math, Engineering and Science who spoke at the event Saturday, said told KSL.com her Muslim faith "promotes treating others as equal" in addition to unity and love.
Finding common ground between people who share different opinions or different faiths is difficult, but possible, said Ahmad, who is a Muslim. But he said every faith teaches you to do the right thing.
"I believe all faiths want and demand to do the right thing. And we have to find the common grounds with our different faiths," he told KSL.com. "It’s easy to find what's different and nitpick on that and divide. It's harder to find what's common, but it's there. And we need to build on what's common. We need to build on that and create positive, sustainable change."
Though people might have different beliefs and principles, all faiths teach the importance of standing up for what’s right, he added.
Khadija Kele, a recent graduate from Academy for Math, Engineering and Science who also spoke at Saturday’s gathering, told KSL.com that coming together that day gave them a chance to "speak from the heart."
She said she believes progress toward racial equality won’t come quickly, "but I feel like it will happen."
And for those who may not want to get involved, Khadija asked them to walk in her shoes and ask what they would do in that circumstance.
"Change is only going to happen if it’s a community-based change."
Her friend, Salma, had a similar message.
"Your world is turned upside down right now. Our world has been upside down our entire lives."