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Protecting the Bill of Rights in Utah since 1958

When Police Shoot Community Members: “Something Has To Change!”

UAFB Fb1This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2016 Spring Newsletter >>

So far, 2016 has already seen several violent interactions between Utah law enforcement and the community. Two high-profile shootings  have occurred in Salt Lake City alone since January (among others that have attracted less attention statewide): Palema Lautaimi, a 28-year-old Polynesian man from the west side of Salt Lake City, and Abdi Mohamed, a 17-year-old Kenyan refugee who has lived in Utah since arriving as a child ten years ago.

In Utah, as with elsewhere in the nation, shootings of community members by police have been subjected to increasing public scrutiny. The ACLU of Utah has closely tracked this phenomenon, as it is directly related to core civil liberties issues including police militarization, racial bias, transparency and accountability. Recently, we have become more closely engaged with family members of individuals shot by police and with on-the-ground community activists who share our concerns regarding law enforcement’s use of force. 

Last summer, ACLU of Utah staff members began working with local activists and advocacy groups - including Cop Watch SLC, the United Front and Utahns for Peaceful Resolution - to make positive change at both the local and state levels. As part of this ad-hoc coalition for police reform, the ACLU of Utah has been pushing for specific policy changes that we believe will result in greater public safety, more respect for individual rights, and increasingly positive relationships between law enforcement and community members.  

During the legislative session (see “ON THE HILL”, page 4”), the ACLU of Utah engaged these community activists in lobbying for body camera guidelines that enhance police accountability while protecting both community members’ privacy and media access. Coalition members testified about the importance of listening to those who experience law enforcement’s excessive use of force - and the families of those who are killed by law enforcement - when crafting such guidelines. We supported these grassroots activists in closely tracking important legislation to reform Utah’s civil asset forfeiture practices and improve “use of force” training for all Utah police officers, and kept them informed of opportunities to speak to their legislators about desired policy changes. 

UAFB FB2At the local level, our staff supported community advocates’ involvement in city-convened discussions in the aftermath of the shooting of Abdi Mohamed, providing
valuable policy research and legal insights to empower community participation. After the shootings of  Abdi Mohamed and Palema Lautaimi, ACLU of Utah staff were in contact with family members concerned about the shooting victims’ welfare.  In the days following their shootings, we worked with local officials tto ensure that the families of Adbi and Palema were allowed to see their loved ones in the hospital. 

In the days immediately following Abdi’s shooting, the ACLU of Utah called for a full and prompt investigation of the tragedy - and asked that city leaders treat the Mohamed family with respect while the young man healed. We also challenged media characterizations of “rioting” at the scene of Abdi’s shooting, encouraging officials to understand and respect community outcry following these frightening and frustrating events. 

More information about our work on police practices can be found atwww.acluutah.org/police-practices.