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Utah protesters demand justice for Elijah Smith, a Teamster killed fleeing in fear from police

Release the footage! Jail the killer cop!
By staff |
April 15, 2018
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West Valley City, UT rally demand justice for Elijah Smith.
West Valley City, UT rally demand justice for Elijah Smith. (Photo by Jade Arter)

West Valley City, UT - It was Elijah Smith’s smile that came up again and again, April 14, as roughly 75 protesters gathered to demand justice for the young Black man murdered by West Valley City police exactly one week earlier. It was a smile that caught everyone’s attention and brought light and levity to all who saw it, according to his friends and family. It was a smile that no one will have the privilege of seeing again due to the racist, corrupt, and violent practices of the West Valley City police department.

“He was always the one who was lifting other people up,” said Smith’s mother, Roshawna Carter, at a press conference before the rally.

Teamsters from Local 222 and organizers from Utah Against Police Brutality (UAPB) called the rally on the steps of city hall in West Valley. Smith was a Teamster who worked at the local UPS hub until recently. Protesters demanded the officers involved in the killing be fired and that the murdering officer be jailed. They also called for the release of body camera footage of the murder and community control of Utah’s police.

They chanted “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” “Release the footage!” and “Community control now!” as they mourned the loss of beloved Elijah.

“Something needs to be done about this and quick,” said Willie Townsend, Elijah’s grandfather, at the press conference. “We are tired of running. We are tired of hiding. We are tired. We are suffering.” Townsend also called for the officer who killed Elijah to be jailed.

Smith was murdered while seeking refuge from police who chased him as they searched for a suspect in an alleged robbery. Officials from the department say Smith matched the description of the suspect, though they have not specified exactly what that description was. His family believes that he ‘matched the description’ only because of the color of his skin.

As he fled in fear from a department known for its corruption, Smith entered two houses in the area of 3400 South and Redwood Road. Three WVC officers followed Smith into the second home, where an officer shot and killed him. Three unattended young children were present inside the home. Smith died at the scene.

Smith’s cousin, Monte Brown, told the crowd about how they used to make music together. Smith dreamed of success as a rapper. Brown also mentioned that they had more than one conversation about how they, as young Black men, feared racist police.

“I want justice for my cousin and my family,” he said. “Because this wasn’t right.”

UAPB organizer Dave Newlin spoke about the long criminal history of the West Valley City police department (WVCPD), including the 2012 murder of Danielle Willard by officer Shawn Cowley and the disbanded drug unit that was found to have stolen drugs and money, as well as mishandling evidence. Over 100 cases have been thrown out due to the illegal practices of drug unit officers. No officers were fired as a result. The unit has since been recreated.

“They are the absolute epitome of everything that is wrong with policing in the state of Utah and in the U.S.,” Newlin said. “This is one of the most corrupt, violent and awful police departments in the state of Utah and I want to make sure we don’t forget that.”

WVC cops have recently committed several other acts of brutality. One officer shot the teenage driver of a car in mid-March. Police officials say the car had “lurched” forward as the officer approached it. No footage or further information has been released regarding the incident.

WVCPD officers also invaded the home of a grieving family in late February. A young couple’s baby had died at a local hospital just hours before. When a family member refused to let the officers into the home as they recovered from their loss, the officers kicked down the door, assaulted several people inside, used pepper spray on family members, and illegally searched the home. Family members released footage of the incident they had recorded as it occurred. The two officers who committed the assaults have been reassigned but not fired.

“We’re tired of watching this happen, coming home to this news, and feeling this way about the city we live in,” said Francesca Ball, an organizer with Utah Against Police Brutality. “We are here for each other, and we want the community to have control now. Community control now! We will fight for it until you give it to us.”

UAPB organizer Deborah Blake demanded body camera footage be released immediately.

“We want the footage released before it is doctored and edited to fit their narrative,” she said. “The family deserves to know what happened. We the public demand it. That’s our footage.”

After the rally ended, a half-dozen WVCPD officers exited city hall and walked to their vehicles. The remaining protesters spontaneously gathered again to shout “No more racist police!” “Murderers!” and “Justice for Elijah!”

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