Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

Community mourns loss of James Barker to police shooting, demands change

By C. R. Manor

Utah responds to police abuse

Salt Lake City, UT – Just eight days into 2015, the first fatal police shooting has already occurred in Utah. James Dudley Barker was shot in the Salt Lake City Avenues neighborhood where he owned a home. Barker was going door to door, a block from his own home, to see if people wanted to hire him to remove snow. As recorded on body camera video, a police officer confronts Barker claiming that “a couple of people called about you” and “you are suspicious in the neighborhood.” After a two-minute conversation, the officer escalates the situation saying, “You can be arrested for failure to give your information.” Barker responds getting louder and pointing, then suddenly the officer lunges and attempts to grab Barker. Barker swings the plastic snow shovel in his hands, hitting the police officer.

Not seen on the video, Barker and the officer wrestle on the lawn until the officer pumps three bullets into Barker’s chest according to an eyewitness. This controversial shooting makes 87 people shot by Utah police since 2005. The U.S. leads by far all industrial nations in police related shooting deaths.

Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) spokesperson Ian Adams defended the police aggression and use of deadly force, saying the officer was “doing his job.” The Adams complained the officer is receiving undue “victim blaming.”

“Why did the officer call for back up, but then not himself back up?” asked Susan Osborn, Barkers friend since their college days at Brigham Young University 20 years ago. Osborn says James Barker was a peacemaker. “I know James well enough to know what he would say right now: ‘The man who killed me was my brother.’”

The footage suggests many opportunities for the officer to step back and rethink his aggressive approach towards Barker:

In response to the police killing, Utah Against Police Brutality (UAPB) organized a rally at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building on Jan. 10. 200 people, many from James Barker’s community, along with other families of police killings mourned together.

“We don't want the police to be the one's investigating their own officer involved shootings any longer,” said rally organizer Jessica Arter. “Utah Against Police Brutality is demanding Salt Lake City District Attorney Sim Gill seek external reviews of police shootings.” Such legislation was passed in Wisconsin after Michael Bell was murdered by a police officer.

James Barker's friends spoke at the rallying, describing him “as non-violent, an environmental activist, a social worker in Utah who helped people recover from drug abuse and sexual assault.” James Barker was well known in his neighborhood and spent much of his spare time helping others start community gardens.

Heidi Kelibaugh, Barker’s partner, remembers intimate moments where James would sing to her in the mornings. “If the officer who had confronted James had been female, would James still be alive?” wondered Heidi Kelibaugh.

While the mood of the protest was somber, people continue organizing for police violence and killings to stop. See Utah Against Police Brutality for more information:

#SaltLakeCityUT #PoliceBrutality #UtahAgainstPoliceBrutality #JamesDudleyBarker