Students and U staff blast Buttars

By By Rochelle McConkie

By Rochelle McConkie

Shae Sveniker stood on the steps outside the House of Representatives Chamber, his voice resounding throughout the Capitol rotunda, echoing from the dome walls. He clenched his fist as he called the senator by name, speaking of slavery and oppression and directing his words “to you, Chris.”

His words were a different kind of protest — they were words of poetry.

Sveniker, a Salt Lake Community College student, read his original poem, “Letter from Saint Martin de Porres to Sen. Chris Buttars,” on Friday afternoon as part of a demonstration organized by U professors protesting Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who recently described a bill he opposed by saying, “This baby is black, I’ll tell you. This is a dark, ugly thing.”

Sveniker was one of many individuals who expressed their frustrations about bigotry in the Utah State Legislature through poetry, prose and music to a group of students, community members and lawmakers on their way to the afternoon floor session. The group started inside the Capitol before they moved outside and continued their demonstration in the rain.

U honors professor Matt Bradley, who organized the event, said he wanted to change the tone at the Capitol. “Sen. Buttars has become a poster boy for homophobia, racism and discrimination, but he’s by far not the only representative or senator with those views,” Bradley said. “We wanted to fill the halls with other words besides the racist remarks of Buttars and his colleagues, and we did it.”

Melania Mills, a U senior in international studies, said Buttars’ words perpetuated black stereotypes and reassured her that the fight against racism is not over in America.

“We’re trying so hard to overcome history,” Mills said. “We’re working hard every day to fight against these things, and when you have someone in a position of power who (associates a bill he dislikes with a ‘black baby’), it’s something we should all fight against.”

Araveni Olivares, a SLCC student who plans to transfer to the U, wrote the poem he read, “Black, Dark and Ugly,” on Thursday night when he found out about the protest.

In his poem, Olivares wrote: “Get this straight, Mr. Buttars — We want someone that represents our respect for each other, not someone who thinks he’s better than a child with more melanin,” and “We don’t want the hate you’re selling, ’cause black, dark and ugly, Chris, is what’s found under your skeleton!”

Olivares said Buttars’ comments represent the “inevitable downward spiral of someone who’s not careful with his words,” and show the hateful nature of a lot of anti-illegal immigration and anti-gay legislation that go through the Utah State Legislature.

Students and U faculty also expressed opposition to the senator’s refusal to meet with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People when they called for his resignation, and Buttars’ comments that he had been the target of a “hate lynch mob.” Buttars apologized to Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, but he said he would not resign.

“The apology was just made for political purposes,” Mills said. “It’s a mindset, and sadly it seems to be the mindset of a lot of people on the Hill, which is very disturbing.”

Buttars has made critical comments about the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that struck down segregated schools. He is currently sponsoring a bill to prevent Salt Lake City from creating a registry to give same-sex and other domestic partners the ability to share insurance benefits.

Deanna Blackwell, an academic adviser in the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs, said Buttars’ comments make sense of the “gross lack of funding” for minority students in Utah schools.

“It explains the ongoing maltreatment of people of color,” Blackwell said. Blackwell said the U will continue to protest against what it considers to be racist legislation currently moving though the House and Senate, including a bill that would repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students.

“It’s the same struggle,” she said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtesy Utah State Legislature

Rep. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan.