A protest at the University of Utah opposing the policies of President Donald Trump turned violent on Wednesday when an altercation occurred between a member of the U’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and a Trump supporter.
The march began at the Marriott Library with a short speech by a member of SDS explaining the reasons for the march.
“Four weeks ago we issued an ultimatum for a sanctuary campus to the university, and they have been silent,” the speaker said. “We must make good on our promise and stand up for what’s right.”
The group sent an email to members earlier in the week describing the event and listing demands for the U’s administration. SDS called on the U to become a sanctuary campus, hire an attorney to protect undocumented refugee students, not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as release a public statement outlining these actions.
After the initial introduction, the march moved towards President’s Circle. They were followed by a lone Trump supporter holding a Trump-Pence campaign sign. The Trump backer followed SDS into the Park Building and proceeded to interrupt their chants with words of his own, saying “Donald Trump is not a racist!” “Instead of reading these chants you should read the Constitution!” and “I stand up for my president. I love America. America first!”
The back and forth between the two parties went on for over an hour. Tensions built and at one point the Trump supporter began waving his sign in the face of one of the protesters. The SDS member then ripped up the sign.
“That’s when the Trump supporter proceeded to grab [the protester] and started pushing him and hitting him in the face and the chest,” recalled Katherine Blackett, one of the organizers of the rally.
Both of the men involved were escorted outside by security where they were met by campus police. Words were exchanged between the anti-Trump protester and an officer, which resulted in him getting arrested. Some members of SDS that followed them outside voiced their support of the arrestee and said they had an attorney on standby.
The Trump supporter was escorted from the premises, but was not arrested.
Security was on the scene before the altercation began at the request of the Park Building administration. Multiple authorities tried to convince the demonstrators to leave by threatening them with arrest because of the disruption they were causing.
“The University Police in cooperation with the administration have now threatened to arrest us potentially if we continue this protest,” said Ian, a member of SDS who asked only to be identified by his first name. “If they want us to leave, they should publish a public statement.”
The protest continued in the main lobby despite requests from administrators and other Park Building employees that they leave. The rally, which involved chanting through a megaphone and banging on buckets, echoed off the walls and could be heard throughout the building.