In the days since Floyd’s death in police custody, numerous instances of police aggression and violence against protesters have been captured on video.
But as the uniformed men drew closer, Rojas realized they had something different in mind: Pizza.
Logan City Police Chief Gary Jensen and Assistant Police Chief Jeff Simmons were carrying 10 large pepperoni and cheese pies and a cooler filled with ice water, Gatorade and soft drinks, which they handed out to Rojas and about 30 other protesters who were waving signs in the heat and shouting “Black Lives Matter!” to passing motorists on Main Street.
“It was an incredible, really cool thing to do,” Rojas said.
Three days earlier, a widely watched video showed a Salt Lake City officer pushing over a 67-year-old man with a cane. On Thursday evening in a similar video, an officer in Buffalo can be seen shoving over a 75-year-old protester, seriously injuring him.
In dozens of cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Austin and Atlanta, aggressive and violent police tactics against civil protesters are now under scrutiny.
Jensen, 56, who had seen news footage of violence during the Salt Lake City protest, recalled that both officers and protesters had been treated for heat exhaustion. Feeling grateful that the small protest in Logan was playing out peacefully, he wanted to express his support.
“I thought, ‘How simple would it be to go over [to the Logan courthouse] right now and support these folks — they have a message and it’s an important one,’ ” he said. “I said, ‘Let’s go over and help them in trying to be well while they deliver their message. Let’s be supportive and human.’ ”
It was a few hours after lunchtime and Jensen was looking at a stack of pizzas that had been donated by local businesses in appreciation of the police department. The pies were still warm and there was no way his officers could consume them all, he said.
So with Simmons’s help, Jensen hauled the pizzas out to his car, filled a cooler with ice and stopped at a grocery store to buy drinks.
He and Simmons spent about 15 minutes talking to the protesters and thanking them for holding a peaceful demonstration, he said. The event was first reported by the Logan paper, the Herald Journal.
“There was a good cross-section of people there and some of them knew Chief Simmons by name because they’d had some interaction with him while going to college,” Jensen said. (Utah State University is located in Logan.)
“I told them, ‘I hope we can do better — I hope we can all do better,’ ” he said. “We’re all upset about what happened to George Floyd.”
The message (and the pizza lunch) was appreciated by the small group of activists, who had been chanting and waving signs since 10 a.m., Rojas said.
“I'd told everyone, if somebody gives you the bird, give them the peace sign back,” he said, “and if somebody swears at you, tell them, 'I love you!' So that's what we were doing. Most people were honking in support, but there was also a good deal of flipping off and swearing at us. My voice was raw by the time the chief showed up."
Sammy Pond, a guitar instructor and therapist who lives in Logan, said the surprise kindness shown by police gave him a boost.
“They added to the spirit of what we were doing,” said Pond, 32. “Instead of tear gas and rubber bullets, they brought food and drinks and spent some time with us. That’s what it’s going to take in this country.”
Jensen agreed. “It’s important to extend an olive branch,” he said.
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