Amy and Sean Rhodes picked up dinner at a drive-thru window and ate on the lawn of City Hall in downtown Salt Lake City.
But theirs was a picnic with a purpose.
“We came out to the support police because we think what’s going on right now and that they’re getting a raw shake,” said Amy Rhodes. “We feel they just need all the support they can get.”
And that was exactly what former Salt Lake police officer Eric Moutsos hoped would happen when he organized Saturday night’s “Blue Rally” — a show of support for those who work in law enforcement and their families. About 300 people showed up, most of them wearing blue, many of them carrying flags or signs of support for law enforcement and President Donald Trump.
“I thought it was great,” Moutsos said after the rally, which lasted about 90 minutes and featured two of the four Republicans running to represent the 4th Congressional District, Kim Coleman and Burgess Owens, as well as former Utah House Speaker and gubernatorial candidate Greg Hughes, and his running mate, Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson.
“I’ll tell you, Eric Moutsos has given me hope in this country,” Iverson said, putting his hand on Moutsos’ shoulder. “He’s given me courage, and I just love you. It’s an honor to associate with you. It’s an honor to be here. Thank you for being here. It gives me hope.”
About 15 minutes into the Blue Rally, about two dozen protesters gathered on the north side of the crowd holding signs with messages including “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for Bernardo” and “Fire killer cops.” Moutsos acknowledged them, asking the crowd to applaud for them, as they were “keeping it peaceful.”
“I appreciate that they have the right to say what they want to say,” he said. “Protest is a beautiful thing. … We have to come to the table, and we have to talk about these things.”
The protesters eventually moved closer, and while some stood silently listening, others played music and yelled obscenities about Trump. The conflicts between the two groups were small and mostly contained to polite but passionate discussions about problems in policing and how they should be addressed. A few continued even after the rally ended.
Most of those who came out to the rally said they did so because they feel police officers need to see community support right now.
“I support police officers,” said Krystle, who wanted to keep her last name private out of safety concerns. “They are my bloodline, and I would do anything for them.”
She engaged in a conversation for about two hours with protesters, and she said one man in particular “gave her a different perspective to look at.”
“It’s all about communication,” Krystle said. “We all have to come to the common ground of understanding each other, even if we don’t agree. The point isn’t to agree on everything. … But you have to be able to come to common ground.”
The protester she talked with, Sean Gahner, has been at nearly every protest the last three weeks and seeks to engage with people who disagree with him as often as possible.
“I think that’s the bridge,” he said. “It’s a communication gap, and I think that is how this gets fixed.”
He said he talks with anyone who wants to engage politely, even if they’re passionately disagreeing with him, although he said he tries to stay focused on issues.
“There are certain things that aren’t ‘agree to disagree’ issues,” Gahner said. “And for me, that’s when I can walk away. I can have these conversations about reform, because I believe that there’s a middle ground where we can agree. If I’m talking to a racist, morally, we do not agree. So I can’t agree with you in any way.”
Some protesters listened to the speakers, including former officers, a man holding a “felon for cops” sign, and drag queen Lady Maga, who was collecting thank you letters and cards that would be mailed to “every police station in the state.”
Moutsos and other police officers who spoke said there is no place for politics in policing. He said he’d invited both Salt Lake Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown, but neither responded or attended.
“Police are caught between politicians and the public,” Moutsos said. “I’m telling you the men and women, 99.9% of police officers across the nation, they want to serve and protect all of you, every single person. … There are some outliers. … Today this is a celebration of the men and women who put their lives on the line every single day.”
He addressed the protesters again near the end of the rally, telling them the remedies for policing issues can be achieved without dismantling the system.
“Without a process we have nothing,” Moutsos said of the civil and criminal investigations involving the four officers involved in George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. “This isn’t about you versus us, but I want you to go to the Black Lives Matter donate button, and see where that money goes. It doesn’t even go to Black lives. Did you know that?”
He then said the money goes to support Democrats like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
“What do (they) have in common?” he asked. “They’re white, they’re Democrats, and they’re playing you. And when you wake up and you see that they’re playing you, I will give you a big hug. And I will say, ‘Come. I hug you. I love you.’”
The claim that donations to Black Lives Matter are funneled to Democratic candidates has been debunked by Politifact.
Moutsos said he knows most Americans support law enforcement while seeing the injustice of what happened to Floyd, who died after an officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
“I think that the silent majority of the United States believes the same way,” he said. “But they’re just afraid, and we don’t have to divide on this issue. We know that there are certain injustices that happen, and that’s why there’s a process to go through it. We don’t burn down our cities. We don’t defund the police.”
Owens said the answer to most problems the country has faced can be found in three words.
“We the people,” he said to loud applause and cheers.
He talked about his experiences of growing up in the Jim Crow south, and said no one should be judged by the color of their skin or the clothes they wear. “We the people do those kinds of things. … We cannot stand for this tyranny of chaos and evil. And we the people, I have so much faith in the American people. We’re going to stand so strong this November, and let these leftists know that we still run this country.”
Coleman acknowledged the sacrifices made by families of those who serve in law enforcement.
“We’ve got to trust the system to be fair to anyone who is accused,” Coleman said. “George Floyd was denied due process. What we need to do is make sure everyone in our country is confident that they are entitled to and will receive due process. I want to say thank you, once again, and I have your back.”