Listen to the story above, and follow along below
It’s quiet in Swanny Park as nearly 100 people sit with their heads bowed. Many are holding candles. Near the front of this gathering, under a tree, is a small altar to George Floyd, a Black man killed last week after a white police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes.
Organizers say this vigil is meant to hold space for the lives of those lost to police brutality. Vigils like these, as well as large demonstrations and protests, have been held all across the nation this past week.
The protests started in Minneapolis – where Floyd was killed – and have now spread to over 400 cities and towns in all 50 states as well as other countries. Demonstrators are firmly saying ‘Black Lives Matter,’ as they demand an end to police brutality and systemic racism.
I just want to point out that a lot of people here are saying that they haven’t personally experienced racism, and I would agree with the fact that a lot of us probably haven’t experienced overt racism. However we live racism, our society is founded on racist ideologies…VIGIL COMMENT
Moab Pride organized this candlelight vigil yesterday evening to hear ideas on how the community can support and honor the lives of quote “our marginalized brothers and sisters.”
In Grand County, white people make up 81 percent of the local population. That’s according to 2018 data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Latinos make up 11 percent, Native Americans 5 percent, and Black residents just 1 percent.
Being a BIPOC in white spaces is something I think about all the time. I’m often the only POC when I go on a hike or climb or ecstatically dance on the fins of Sand Flats. Outdoor rec and wilderness spaces are dominated by white folks and I’m working to change that narrative for my Black and brown brothers and sisters.VIGIL COMMENT
Demonstrators across the nation have made it clear that while Black and brown people have fought against racism for generations, white people have largely shied away from confronting their own role within the structures making the world more dangerous for people of color.
This is about Black lives, Black bodies that have been brutalized, controlled, slaughtered, pushed down for hundreds of years. Black bodies built this country. We consume their media, their art, and their contributions on a daily basis.VIGIL COMMENT
Moab Pride organizers asked, what can the community do locally – with its majority white residents – to dismantle persistent and systemic racism?
Ideas were suggested – advertising Moab to people of color, increasing the diversity of visitors. Anti-bias trainings for local law enforcement. Becoming educated on systemic racism, starting a book club with texts written by people of color. Figuring out alternatives to calling the police. Supporting Black Lives Matter Utah. Registering to vote.
And also, accountability. Holding yourself and others accountable for racist thoughts and beliefs.
It’s important that we question these things. And that we push ourselves and our loved ones to be better. I heard someone I worked with say, ‘there was this guy at the dog park complaining about Mexican people.’ And then she followed up with, ‘but he was this really nice guy who offered to help these people with their bike racks.’ And I told her, ‘well, if he said that, it doesn’t mean he’s really a very nice person. It means he’s nice to certain people and that’s not the same thing.’VIGIL COMMENT
Moab Pride organizer Desirae Miller wrote a statement as a woman of color in this community. She said this event, which she put together, is a call for locals to “do better and be better.” KZMU News spoke with her after the vigil.
Being a woman of color and a local for three years, I’ve cried myself to sleep many nights not really knowing what to do and who to talk to. And not really thinking that Moab was a space that I could express my fears and just express however I was feeling. I didn’t think that was really welcomed here until I [found] amazing people who did support that. And I think in that, in finding the few people here that were willing to have the deep, hard dialogue that is necessary and needed, I felt the push to create a space mainly centered on George Floyd and on the people of color that have been killed by police brutality. Rather than, I suppose, action right away. Just space holding I think is the most important thing right now for the people who can’t use their voices and can’t be angry anymore because their lives have been taken.DESIRAE MILLER
KZMU News: A lot of people who spoke, they talked about the whiteness of Moab. And Moab not being a space for people of color… Was there anything that struck you?
I think I was actually super grateful to be validated in that. I think when I walk into a restaurant, or even City Market, the first thing in my mind as a woman of color is ‘oh wow there’s absolutely no one who looks like me right now and I am the only one who is standing out.’ And it’s uncomfortable. It’s really uncomfortable. That was amazing validation…And I think the beauty in tonight was seeing that people do love Moab, and in loving Moab it’s holding Moab accountable. And it’s calling Moab out for [blind spots]. So seeing Moab address it’s blind spots was amazing.DESIRAE MILLER
Toward the end of the evening, one resident shared a recent experience at a demonstration for Black lives in front of the Moab Information Center. They said a local law enforcement officer showed up, and while he supported what they were doing he told them, “there is no racism here.”
I think the biggest fear for anyone who is not of color…it’s really terrifying to know that people you feel connected to and people that look like you are racist. It’s really uncomfortable to address that and confront it. And I think even the Moab Police Department truly believes they are doing the best of their ability. They really do.
But that’s the problem. The problem is we’re still continuing to sweep this issue under the rug. And as soon as we lift this rug up and finally just say, ‘racism exists, and it’s here, so what can we do about it?’ And that’s the step, and that’s the next action I’m hoping for. It’s just finally relinquishing the control of…your fears. You might potentially be racist, and it’s okay, but let’s dialogue, and let’s work on it, and let’s unpack it. That’s the next step.DESIRAE MILLER
KZMU NEWS: You can’t just let that lie, because you’re holding up white supremacy the longer you do. You know, this might be the first time I’m aware of in a public way that Moab has been called out…And you saw nearly 100 people show up tonight.
Yeah, I’m really excited that there’s finally space for it in Moab…And I know that locals want the space for it and I think we can all do it together…I’m just so excited to see everyone here. There were so many familiar faces. And it’s like, ‘whoa I didn’t even know I could talk to you about this.’ It was awesome – now all the faces that were here I know are down to dialogue, and I know they’re open to do the work. And that’s exciting. It’s exciting to be surrounded by people who are just as eager to do the work as you are.DESIRAE MILLER
Rani Derasary is serving her second term on the Moab City Council and was the only elected official present at last night’s vigil.
I have been very privileged in my life. I recognize that I’m a bi-racial half Asian kid, who’s half Caucasian who totally has the privilege of passing. I feel like with that privilege comes lot of responsibility to make sure that you recognize your privilege, that you take personal action to help other people have the same rights and privileges that you do.
Certainly as an individual with my history, certainly as someone born and raised in Oakland in a community that was largely Black, certainly as someone who’s privileged, but as a public official too – we have a responsibility to speak up and do whatever we can to change things moving forward. So I hope this starts some good dialogue so that people can get educated about where we are as a community in Moab.RANI DERASARY
Ash Howe is a 16-year-old activist organizing demonstrations at the Moab Information Center this week. Ash is white and shared an experience of privilege when it comes to law enforcement.
My sister…is white passing. She got pulled over while we were driving down the street one time and she was going probably 10 [mph] over. And the officer told her to slow down and have a nice day. Whereas, my best friend who is a person of color…when he got pulled over the police officer shined the flashlight in all of our faces and looked throughout the entire vehicle and took 10 minutes examining his license and came back and gave him a ticket. Gave him a ticket for going 10 [mph] over when he was only going 7 [mph] over. And I think seeing that difference was astounding to me because I’ve been pulled over with my mom and with my sister, and it’s completely different than it has ever been than when I’m pulled over with my friends of color.ASH HOWE
KZMU NEWS: What do we need to be doing right now – especially as Moab is majority white – what would you say white people need to be considering at this moment?
I think they need to take in consideration that everyone matters. And while Black Lives Matter seems Black central, it’s not just about that. It’s about everyone. And it’s about equality for everyone. And it’s about all of us having the lives that we deserve. And I don’t think a lot of white people are taking into consideration that other people are dying. They’re getting killed at higher rates than us. And I think white people especially need to educate themselves on the problem.ASH HOWE
Education and holding each other each other accountable are the lessons and directives from last night’s vigil. For more on anti-racism, Moab Pride, and upcoming local demonstrations against police brutality, check out the show notes below.
Moab Pride Candlelight Vigil Organizers Meeting
George Floyd protests
Annual Demographic Profile: Grand County
Black Lives Matter Moab (local demonstration info)
Black Lives Matter Utah
The BIPOC Project: A Black, Indigenous, & People of Color Movement
Seek Collective: Resources for Anti-Racist Action
Justice in June, Learn How to be An Active Ally of the Black Community