SALT LAKE CITY – After months of protests around the nation over racial injustice in policing, police groups in Utah say they have grown frustrated with rhetoric they describe as unfair and called for The Salt Lake Tribune to apologize after it published an editorial cartoon linking the Ku Klux Klan with law enforcement.
Police supporters staged a protest outside the Tribune’s printing press Thursday night after the Utah Sheriffs’ Association, and Republican U.S. Rep Chris Stewart demanded that the paper retract the cartoon and apologize. Several police groups, including the state's Department of Public Safety, have condemned the use of KKK imagery to portray law enforcement officials.
Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson said he found the cartoon extremely offensive and decided to speak out because it unfairly grouped local officers with the national narrative about racism in policing. He said there are areas in which local police departments can improve, but he is confident that in Utah “policing as a whole is good."
“It was time as our silent voices have really been just in a listening mode of what all the concerns are now to say you know what enough was enough and you’ve crossed the line,” Anderson said Friday. “That’s completely inappropriate, completely inappropriate and uncalled for.”
The cartoon titled “The Deep Hate” shows a police officer and a doctor looking at an X-ray that shows a figure in a white Ku Klux Klan hood where the officer's spine should be. The Salt Lake City paper does not plan to apologize, and the cartoon is still online.
“The cop in the cartoon is in for a check up because he felt something was wrong,” cartoonist Pat Bagley wrote on Twitter. “White supremacists have made it a point to infiltrate law enforcement. That’s a fact. That’s a problem.”
Bagley said the cartoon was never meant to imply that all police officers are racist.
Several police officials signed a letter saying the cartoon would only further divide people as officials are working to better serve people of color in their communities.
“The broad stroke used to widely disparage the law enforcement profession is disheartening, irresponsible, and does nothing to bring us together for the common good,” the letter said.
Utah’s largest police union voiced similar complaints this week, saying that some teachers have been making “disparaging comments” about officers and wearing Black Lives Matter shirts in the classroom.
In a letter addressed to the state superintendent, the Utah Fraternal Order of Police suggested that teachers are assigning books that portray police “evil, or unnecessarily violent toward persons of color” and giving speaking assignments “full of anti-police sentiment.”
"If teachers want to protest police, then it needs to be on their own time," the union wrote. “The classroom is NOT the place for political indoctrination or social engineering based upon the political leanings of the teacher."
Lex Scott, who leads Black Lives Matter Utah, said valuing Black lives shouldn't been seen as a political issue.
“When we say that our lives matter and you disagree, that’s racism,” Scott told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Protesters in Utah have been calling for accountability in police shooting cases in recent months such as the killing of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, who was shot at more than 30 times as he ran from police in May. Protests erupted in July when District Attorney Sim Gill cleared the two officers who shot him.
Associated Press writer Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.