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SALT LAKE CITY — Black Lives Matter Utah protesters stood on the lawn of the Salt Lake City and County building Thursday accusing Mayor Erin Mendenhall of refusing to work with an activist group that calls for police reform.
But Mendenhall's office says the mayor is now working with a different police oversight group in hopes that activists working for police reform will engage with that group.
About 50 protesters gathered at Washington Square Park on Thursday afternoon shouting "recall Mendenhall," as well as other familiar refrains against police brutality such as "no justice, no peace."
The group accused Mendenhall of refusing to work with the Community Advocates Group, or CAG, an organization that has met with Salt Lake police regularly for the past several years and helped to institute police reform policies such as releasing body camera footage and publishing data on police use of force.
"It's a community-based group with activists and local community members that had a transparent conversation with the mayor's office. And then the mayor's office decided to remove herself from those conversations, which is troublesome," said Rae Duckworth, operating chairperson for Black Lives Matter Utah.
Earlier this week, Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown announced a new crime control plan that includes four main goals: reduce crime, improve officer response times, fill funded and unfunded sworn officer positions, and continue building community relationships.
"That's an oxymoron," Duckworth said. "You don't get to remove yourself from a community-based conversation, and then turn around and tell the press that you're working on building relationships when you're not."
Instead of holding their regular meetings every other Thursday, members of the CAG have decided to protest at Washington Square Park until Mendenhall agrees to sit down with them once again, Duckworth said.
But Mendenhall's office said Thursday that the city has been working with and making progress with the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing. City officials hope that the CAG will continue to work with Mendenhall through that commission, the mayor's office said.
"With the formation and work of the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing over the course of the last year, a great deal of tangible progress has been made on police reform and policy. We plan to continue that work with the commission in perpetuity," Mendenhall's office said in a statement. "Salt Lake City has valued its connection with Community (Advocates) Group, but with the commission charged to continue its important and transformational work, our hope is that any person in the community looking to get involved in this work will do so through the commission. We are hopeful that members of CAG will start to engage and work with the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing in the near future."
But that just isn't enough from the mayor, protesters insisted on Thursday.
Carl Moore, an activist who has worked extensively with people who are experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake City, described encounters between police and unsheltered people as an "interaction of violence."
"There's an absolute war on our unsheltered relatives," he said.
Being approached by police officers can trigger a post-traumatic stress disorder response from an unsheltered person, because it reminds them of being accused of something they didn't do, Moore said. People of color who are experiencing homelessness are more likely to have a bad experience with police, he added.
Moore encouraged people to continue pushing for police accountability and reform.
"There's always a way to help out your relatives," he said.
Duckworth said Mendenhall owes police reform activists more.
"I'm here standing in solidarity with police brutality victims and their family members. My family is a police brutality victim family ... and we want justice. And we want police reform. And we think that (Mendenhall) owes us an action from that now, since she can't handle a conversation."