Candlelight Vigil in Provo gathers more than a thousand people

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More than a thousand people gather outside of the Provo Police Department for a candlelight vigil to honor victims of police brutality. 

A man sits in front of the Provo Police Department holding a flag which reads “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”  Police officers and hundreds of other people from throughout Utah county all gathered to remember the lives lost to police brutality during a candlelight vigil held Thursday night in Provo.  

The vigil was organized and hosted by “Unified Allies 4 Change.” The group was created by Israel “Izzie” Herring, a student at Utah Valley University, and three brothers, Sebastian Stewart-Johnson, Alexander Stewart-Johnson, and Cole Stewart-Johnson. The Stewart-Johnson brothers met Herring at a protest in Provo, and they created this group “to unify the community as one, it’s to bring together the police department and the community so we can all make changes together,” said Sebastian Stewart-Johnson. 

One of the Stewart-Johnson brothers speaks to the crowd at a Candlelight Vigil in Provo, Utah Friday, June 5, 2020. Photo Courtesy of Rachel Cox

The vigil began with Herring thanking the crowd for coming and announcing that the event would be peaceful. “Tonight is not about left or right, tonight is gonna be a peaceful candelight vigil for victims of police brutality in the United States of America, but also all around the world,” said Herring. 

“I truly am tired of hashtags, I’m tired of seeing murders on a day-to-day basis,” said Sebastian Stewart-Johnson, meaning that he’s tired of seeing the names of victims of police brutality made into hashtags used to memorialize their death.  He spoke about how the community can make a change by educating themselves and others about police brutality and racism. “We need to use our privilege to benefit all those who have been marginalized and have been made inferior,” he said. 

Following Sebastian, Provo Police Chief, Rich Ferguson, took the stage. “I appreciate this peaceful gathering,” said Ferguson, “I believe its healthy for our community, it’s healthy for our state.” He then said that the Provo Police officers are trained to be, “compassionate and understanding, and to strive to build strong relationships with our citizens,” he added, “there’s nothing that makes good cops madder than bad cops.” 

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi stated the cities motto. “Welcome home, and I mean that,” Kaufusi said. “I don’t care where you’re from, what you look like, who you love, I don’t care. I want you to feel welcome here. You’re all welcome in the city of Provo as long as I’m the mayor.” 

Alex Stewart-Johnson led the candlelight vigil and prompted the crowd to take a moment of silence to remember victims of police brutality. He talked about how speaking up action is the key to change, and that the series of events in recent weeks were only the begging of change that is taking place in Provo. “This is only the beginning and we cannot be content with this,” said Alex. 

Music artist Alex Boye made an appearance, leading a celebration of life for the victims of police brutality. Boye said people of all colors need to come together in order to make way for change. “On a piano, if you play just the black keys, you can display almost all of the spirituals, and if you play the piano just using the white keys, you can play a bunch of frank Sinatra songs.” The crowd laughed. “But when you play the black keys and the white keys together, that’s when some magic comes out.”  

Alex Stewart-Johnson ended the vigil by wishing a happy birthday to Brionna Taylor. Taylor was shot and killed by police in Louisville Kentucky during a “no-knock” search warrant to her home. 

Some attendees were not impressed with the vigil and felt it did not hold to it’s true purpose, and ignored the issue of police brutality in Utah. Utah Valley University’s Black Student Union posted on their Instagram page concerning the vigil.

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