Provo candlelight vigil runs smoothly due to planning, cooperation

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Over 1,000 community members gather outside the Provo Police Department for a candle light vigil on June 5. (Preston Crawley)

Over a thousand people gathered in front of the Provo Police Department on Friday night for a candlelight vigil in memory of those who died due to racism and police brutality, but most attendees don’t know the work and time spent to ensure the event ran smoothly.

The idea for the vigil came after Sebastian, Cole and Alex Stewart-Johnson received a call from their mom warning them to stay safe during the protests. The three brothers from Texas live here in Utah for school and were not planning on attending any protests, but after they got off the call, they decided to attend a protest and plan their own event.

As they were driving through Provo on May 30, they came across a protest and joined in. During the protest, they started spreading the word that they were planning an event and met Izzie Herring, a UVU student from Florida. The four formed “Unified Allies 4 Change” and got to work.

Permits and insurance

Cole Stewart-Johnson, Izzie Herring, Sebastian Stewart-Johnson and Alex Stewart-Johnson planned June 5’s candle light vigil in under a week. (Lisi Merkley)

In planning the vigil, the organizers talked about contacting the Provo Police Department. But before they could, UVU professor LaShawn Williams had already started the conversation.

Williams posted on Facebook on May 31, asking if local police departments would join with those protesting and asking for changes, and the next morning the Provo Police Department reached out and asked to meet with her. “We discussed some of their questions about how to best do their job, and they expressed their concern about the protests, not about the protest but about protecting the protesters,” she said.

According to Williams, the police weren’t told about the protests in Provo on May 30 and weren’t able to plan in advance. In the meeting, the police said they hadn’t heard of the vigil yet, so Williams offered to make the connection between the organizers and the police.

“This is why I do what I do because there are people that are trying to create lasting connections so that we can all be safe together, and that’s what matters to me,” Williams said.

With the information Williams passed on, the organizers sat down with the police on Wednesday to hash out the details of the event. “(The police) could see that we were just trying to work with them to be able to provide this space for people to come peacefully to be able to remember these people,” Alex said.

The police walked the organizers through the permit application process and showed them who they would need to talk to in order to get all the things they needed, including insurance.

Event organizers take a photo with 12 Utah County police chiefs on June 5. (Preston Crawley)

The insurance protects the organizers in case someone is injured or property is damaged at their event. Cole said there were a few things that helped the cost of insurance stay low like having the police in attendance as security. “It was more than we wanted to pay, but it definitely wasn’t unreasonable especially with the extent of the coverage.”

Spreading the word

The four organizers said besides the insurance, the most surprising thing about planning the vigil was the support they received from the community. “You get excited about the idea that that many people would come together for this, knowing exactly what it is for,” Alex said.

The organizers didn’t reach out to anyone to ask them to share the event, but people have helped spread the word on social media. “I think social media has played a really huge part into it, especially with everybody’s heightened sense of awareness on the issue of Black Lives Matter and police brutality,” Cole said. “Because of that, I think it’s grown a lot faster than it normally would have.”

Alex said it was divine intervention that the event has grown so big. “We got lucky,” he said. “We should in theory have had to have done more like groundwork than we did.”

Goals

The organizers hoped the vigil would bring the community together and leave the politics behind. “If we can just get to the fact that there’s an issue and acknowledge that and honor the people that have died because of this issue, then we got hope and we got love,” Izzie said.

Sebastian pointed out that some people feel they have to hate the cops to support black people or vice versa, but he said that’s not the goal of the vigil. “We’re trying to draw us together: the police department and the community as one, so we can become unified. Until we do so, there will never be a real change.”

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi, event organizers and Provo Police Chief Ferguson address the crowd, and Alex Boyé performs at a candle light vigil on June 5. (Preston Crawley)

Izzie acknowledged that this vigil is just the first step in unifying the community. “We’re not asking people to pick a side, we’re asking you to be human.”

For Cole, holding a vigil instead of a protest allows attendees to take a moment to listen to other’s experiences and really feel things. “Those should be things that should hit home for you in a way that makes you want to take this flame or this life that you now are standing here for and put that into your life.”

During the vigil, the organizers expressed gratitude for all who helped and showed up. Many families were in attendance along with 12 Utah County police chiefs. Provo Police Chief Rich Ferguson, Mayor Michelle Kaufusi and all four organizers spoke, and the event concluded with a surprise performance by Alex Boyé.

“This is how we have to do it, through love,” Alex said.

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