Salt Lake City hopes to erase the school-to-prison pipeline

Story, pictures, and infographic by ZANE LAW

The United States of America, according to a Prison Policy article, imprisons more people per capita than any other country, with approximately 2.3 million imprisoned individuals. Of this captive population, the article also says there is a large number of juvenile and young adult offenders. The school-to-prison pipeline has been used to describe this odd trend and what might be behind it.

The ACLU, or American Civil Liberties Union, talks of “zero tolerance” policies and police officers on campuses as being issues. The organization’s website says these policies criminalize behaviors that should easily be handled by the school or teachers. Forcing students to negatively interact with law enforcement at such a young age leaves them with a bad taste for both school and law enforcement officers.

In an article by the  Utah Public Policy Clinic, part of the S.J. Quinney College of Law, researchers state that the criminalizing of behaviors is also detrimental to the dropout rate of students. Students who are suspended once are twice as likely to drop out, while students with three or more suspensions are five times more likely. The clinic notes that by the end of suspensions, school disconnectedness, a feeling of exclusion, and lagging behind in school work are common.

Jeremy Robbins, a half-Colombian man, speaks to how detrimental suspension and expulsion are to learning experiences and young lives. In a phone interview, he spoke about an instance in which he and his friends played a prank on their California classmates. They tossed stink bombs inside the lockers of five people as they ran through their high school halls. While Robbins agrees that his behavior was childish and deviant, he is still upset by the punishments given. His white friends were given detentions and community service requirements, but Robbins was expelled for the exact same actions.

Robbins remembers feeling worthless and without hope. He never went back to school, but instead went to work in the construction industry. Once he was kicked out of his home at age 18, as his parents had experienced before him, he had no diploma and not enough money to live.

The California native wished to find a better job to support himself, but no one wanted a high school dropout among their ranks. Robbins says he fell back on crime and spent his days robbing stores. He was caught and charged with felony grand theft, leaving him with a criminal record and an even slimmer chance of landing a good job.

Emphasizing Jeremy Robbins’ experience and touching upon local issues, the article by the Utah Public Policy Clinic notes that 29 percent of the Utah Latinx population drops out of school. This is 16 percent more than white students. These disproportionate dropout rates lead to higher incarceration rates, as the clinic also states that one-third of Utah State Prison inmates are dropouts.


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Information gathered from Utah Public Policy Clinic and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The Public Policy Clinic says that dropouts are three and a half times more likely to be arrested. With Latinxs dropping out at higher rates and with a far higher probability of being arrested after leaving school, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that the prison system holds a 32.3 percent Hispanic demographic.

Shawn Clay, a pastor for New Beginnings Ministry, an occasional preacher at Salt Lake City Mission, and an ex-convict, said in an interview that we need to start tackling this inequality issue immediately. Clay says the first step is to “admit that it (racism) exists. Racism out here is done with a smile.” He believes that while authoritative people in Utah act kindly, they are still treating people of color unfairly.

Clay explains that because of the color of his own skin, he was treated differently. He was hit with harsher charges and given more time in jail than a white counterpart would have received. While Clay hated his time in jail, it is the lasting effects on his life that he despises most. Clay is not currently allowed to drive, he has a much harder time finding jobs, and he missed out on memories with loved ones. Clay says he is a far better person than the justice system gives him credit for, and is proud of his coined phrase, “#morethanmyrapsheet.”

The first parole officer to Clay and a cop of 20 years, Shannon Cox, even speaks of the racist ways of her troop and the criminal justice system. She tells of officers referring to people of color as the “bad guys” and knows she wants to change something about that narrative. 

Both Clay and Cox attended a “Week Against Prisons” event in April, hosted by ACLU and the U’s College of Social Work, to discuss racial inequality, police injustice, and the school-to-prison pipeline.

While Cox says that helping mistreated adults transition from jail into normal life is rewarding, she also realizes that underrepresented kids need attention. Cox says she wants to “help harmed kids to not become harmful adults” because she knows just how detrimental the pipeline is. If troubled kids are not cared for early on, she says the system simply amplifies their negative situations. 

To help with her plan of guiding others, Shannon Cox founded Journey of Hope in 2014. The organization’s mission statement explains that it seeks “to improve the lives of harmed and justice-involved women and girls by empowering them through gender-responsive case-management and mentorship.” Cox and her organization have helped more than 1,500 women and girls, with 250 of those having recently left prison. The website notes that the recidivism, or tendency to re-offend after leaving prison, is 17 percent while the state rate is 67 percent. 

People of color are still mistreated nationwide, but there are also plenty of folks like Clay and Cox looking to do their part. Salt Lake City, in particular, has been doing a lot to raise its voice. In addition to places like Journey of Hope and Salt Lake City Mission, Undocuweek and Week Against Prisons are both recent events held at the University of Utah.



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Making a difference: The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Story and photo by TYSON ALDRIDGE

The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (UHCC) located on 1635 S. Redwood Road can be an effective tool for businesses and business owners to achieve success. According to the UHCC website, it was founded in 1991 and serves as an advocate for the Hispanic business community in Utah. UHCC recognizes that the Hispanic community in Utah is large and that it is also a very vital part of the state. The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was formed with the idea of diversity in commerce in mind.

UHCC does everything it can to ensure that its members are being recognized by the community. According to the UHCC website, being a member of UHCC has many benefits, including free advertising, training on financing programs, and free professional development workshops. In addition, to help businesses and business owners, UHCC offers a number of networking opportunities, community involvement, and much more.

UHCC bridges the gap between government and business owners. One of the biggest advantages to being a member is receiving legislative updates from UHCC. These updates can help businesses understand new laws and legislation that may have been confusing. According to a 2017 Utah Business article, UHCC helped secure a deal with the Utah legislature that aimed to promote trade between Mexico and the state of Utah. The chamber got this deal done with the Hispanic business community of Utah in mind and to reaffirm the strong relationship between the United States and Mexico.

By being an advocate for businesses and entrepreneurs, business owners can focus on their work, rather than dealing with legislation themselves. Alex Guzman, president and CEO of UHCC, says, “Hispanic businesses and business owners need to learn how to pay taxes and file taxes. Our Business Academy that is every 10 weeks, is a great tool to teach the Hispanic community on how to run a business.” The Business Academy, which is free to members, teaches planning, marketing, communication, hiring, customer service, and more.

After completion of the course, one should be able to manage their business more efficiently. The Business Academy isn’t the only class offered by UHCC. It offers several other professional development workshops throughout the year. These are an effective tool to learn the essentials of business and to improve one’s overall savviness as a business person.

UHCC is very important to the Hispanic community. Guzman told KSL in 2019, “In Utah, Latinos make up the largest immigration population at 17 percent. In the state of Utah, it’s very easy, simple and friendly to be a business owner.” Guzman added, “There are a little bit more than 15,000 business owners that label themselves as Hispanic at the Utah Department of Commerce.”

Businesses that are members of the UHCC see many benefits after joining. Ana Bullard, senior loan officer for Rock Mortgage Lending on 596 W. 750 South, said in an email that “the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has benefited a number of my clients. Their resources supporting businesses are vast. In addition to providing networking opportunities, the UHCC encourages community engagement and conducts professional development workshops. They educate business owners with information that can help them obtain grants and support growing their businesses. UHCC helps expand members’ talents, experience and opportunities.”

UHCC not only helps businesses achieve financial success, according to the UHCC website, but also helps businesses reach a larger audience by giving them advertising and marketing opportunities through its site and radio. By handling advertising, UHCC enables owners to focus on growing their business. Advertising can be very expensive and hard to navigate.

Socials are another tool that UHCC offers its members. According to the website, these socials are a way for businesses to network and meet other professionals who have the same goals in mind for their business.

There are many opportunities to expand your reach and the popularity of your business. When asked about why companies would want to join UHCC, Nicole Garcia of Madmarli Realty said through email, “I joined because of their multitude of networking opportunities and they also advertise their members on the site and radio.”

Bullard says, “The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is a valuable resource to anyone in the Hispanic community looking for business training/assistance, information and networking opportunities. The training UHCC conducts assists attendees through sales and business coaching, marketing, networking opportunities and more. No matter what type of business you have, UHCC can provide useful and relevant skills training and resources.”


The benefits of joining UHCC are endless, and all members truly feel wanted. The UHCC’s mission statement is, “To provide leadership, opportunities for economic growth, professional development and community involvement for our members.”

Utah advocates to stop domestic violence among Pacific Islanders

Story and photos by WOO SANG KIM

Statistics on domestic violence are appallingly high among Pacific Islanders. But a Utah nonprofit is offering seminars to educate men and women about domestic violence and provide information for disrupting the cycle.

According to a 2017 study, “Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the Pacific Islander Community,” “With regard to domestic violence and sexual assault, UN Women estimates that 60-80 percent of Pacific Islander women and girls experience physical or sexual violence by a partner or other in their lifetimes. The rate is higher than any other region in the world. Few countries in the Pacific Islands have laws against violence against women.”

What is the cause? Erin Thomas, a researcher at American University and author of the study, wrote, “The effects of climate change often emphasize gender disparities and result in greater violence against women. Additionally, political turmoil, violence, and poverty in many areas of the Pacific Islands increase the prevalence of gender-based violence.”

Oreta Tupola, community health specialist at the Utah Public Health Association, said, “The culture also prevents women from taking action.” Most Pacific Islander women take care of the household while the men earn income. She said women rely on men for financial support. Victims’ relatives do not meddle in the family business and let the family resolve the issue. The religious orthodoxy does not encourage people to challenge traditional family roles. In short, Tupola said women are left helpless and uneducated on how to stop the abuse.

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Tupola serves as an advocate assisting and advising women in danger to avert domestic violence.

Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), founded in 2015 by Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, Simi Poteki and Cencira Te’o, is a group of activists who speak up to inform the community about the domestic violence, cultural preservation, and economic impact. The mission of the organization is to provide resources, opportunities and services to Utah’s Pacific Islanders by bridging communities.

PIK2AR’s domestic violence program focuses on unique messages for men and women. The Pacific Island Women’s Empowerment (PIWE), seminar featuring workshops and group discussions created by PIK2AR for women, hosts two weekly sessions for both Pacific Islanders and non-Pacific Islanders at the Sorenson Unity Center at 1383 S. 900 West in Salt Lake City. The seminar lasts about 90 minutes and has about 17 participants.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou, PIK2AR’s executive director, said, “We teach how to pay the bill, raise the credit score, and what domestic violence is by definition, which starts way before the first punch.”

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Feltch-Malohifo’ou (left) is executive director of PIK2AR,  which provides safe passageways for women who are victims of domestic violence to liberate from their husbands.

Tupola said the PIWE offers a curriculum that gives therapy, group sessions on empowerment and strength, how to remove children safely, where to find shelter, how to have a safety plan, how to detach emotionally from a spouse, and how to prepare for separation. The PIWE also rotates speakers specialized in social work and behavioral psychology weekly, too. Every seminar, the speaker prepares different topics as requested by the guests and answers questions that are taboo in the Pacific Islander culture. Tupola said such are sex, drugs, and personal lifestyle.

Women at the varying stages of victimization are aided. “They don’t just come because they are just trying to run away. They have not decided if they want to leave but come in for therapies and advices,” said Matapuna Levenson, lead guide at the Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center. “We have a wide range of stages. They generally come to get a civil protective order. The protective order forbids abusers from contacting victims. Upon contact, police arrests them (abusers). Victims are surprised by the vast resources and helps out there,” Levenson said.

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Matapna Levenson provides resources, connections and advice for women who seek aid.

Although the door is always open for all victims, the aim of the PIWE is to teach women to be independent. “We don’t want people keep coming back to us for help,” Feltch-Malohifo’ou said. “We want to empower and teach so that they can help themselves.”

Levenson said, “Those able to sustain themselves and prevent themselves from abuse become advocates in issuing protective order, supporting other victims in healing, and speaking in domestic violence conferences.”

The PIWE shapes women to liberate and take actions from their husbands, Tupola said.

PIK2AR also offers a seminar, Kommitment Against Violence Altogether (KAVA) Talks, for men. The monthly seminar is held at the Oish Barber Shop in 4330 3500 South in West Valley City. It also lasts for 90 minutes and has about 13 participants.

Tupola said men are taught that “everyone has a right to be free of harm, domestic violence is against the law, respecting personal boundary is crucial, and that violence is not a discipline.”

She also said men were often unaware of this country’s culture and laws, and that their actions could result in deportation. Many have family history of domestic violence and have accepted it as a norm.

This upbringing combined with stressors of living in a new environment, not finding a job, comparing their wife to other wives, and not having enough money prompts men to perpetuate the crime,” Tupola said. “The Western influence of spanking to discipline also reshaped men, too.”

What can we do? “Appealing to priests, bishops, and governors, becoming allies, and maximizing faith and family relationships is key to connecting the Pacific Islander community. Violence has nothing to do with culture and race. It crosses socioeconomic groups,” Levenson said.


Women of the World: a safe haven for Salt Lake City’s refugee and immigrant women.

Story, photos and slideshow by DEVON ALEXANDER BROWN

Thanks to the steadily rising influx of technology companies, the Salt Lake City metropolitan area is becoming affectionately known as Silicon Slopes, a burgeoning parallel to California’s Silicon Valley.

But it wasn’t career advancement opportunities that brought Samira Harnish, a former semiconductor engineer for Micron Technology Inc., back to Utah. It was the chance to make a difference and fill a necessary void.


Samira Harnish standing in her office at Women of the World, located at 3347 S. Main St.

Harnish immigrated to the United States from Baghdad, Iraq, in the late 1970s. She studied engineering at Utah State University, but frequently suffered discrimination due to her race and gender. She also endured depression because she felt isolated in her new community and found it difficult to express her feelings. The need for female advocacy and empowerment drove her to establish Women of the World, a nonprofit organization based in Salt Lake City, in 2010.

Harnish knew from an early age that she wanted to help others. As a result she’s amassed over two decades of volunteer experience and before founding Women of the World, she served as a medical interpreter for local organizations like Catholic Community Services, the International Rescue Committee, the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Refugee and Immigrant Center – Asian Association of Utah.

But it wasn’t until her stint as an interpreter that she came to realize the true wants and desires of refugee and immigrant women.

“I actually listened to them to know what they want,” Harnish said. “They say, ‘I wish we had a woman that could hear us and guide us.’ When you are foreign in a country you don’t know anything. You need someone to guide you and to give you advice.”

And as she listened to the desires of refugee women from disparate cultural backgrounds, Harnish said they came to the same conclusion: they wanted a space of their own. Where they could freely share their concerns, interests and dreams without being overshadowed by the men in their lives.

Although Harnish stepped up to meet their needs, for a while she was alone in her efforts. For five years she operated without an office or case managers, simply visiting refugee homes, gathering contacts and securing much needed donations.

Salt Lake City is the nation’s second largest resettlement site for refugee women. It also has the largest proportion of single mothers and women-at-risk of any resettlement community. Four out of five refugees are women and many are survivors of teen marriage, domestic violence and rape. Once resettled they must juggle the effects of these traumas with unique economic and social challenges.

Yet, until Harnish founded Women of the World, there was no local organization dedicated to assisting such a notable demographic. And the women are grateful.


Thank you letters displayed in the Women of the World office.

Apiel Kuot, a refugee from South Sudan, is one of these women. She said she was stressed and scared when arriving in Utah in the fall of 2016, but Women of the World helped her with winter clothing, a television and other essential household goods. She also learned to start thinking positively.

“I can’t count the things they’ve helped me with because there are so many things I have received from them,” Kuot said in a telephone interview. “And they give me encouragement which is much better than anything else someone can give.”

Now a year later, she is confident and self-reliant and is planning to earn a social work degree.

“There are some women who are at a camp that will soon be in this place, but they don’t know where to go with their issues,” Kuot said.  “I trust Samira and Women of the World and I will tell them because they (WoW) always give me positive things, not negative things.”

The Women of the World office, located at 3347 S. Main St., is considered a second home by women like Kuot. Women hailing from countries like Iraq, Nepal, Myanmar, Iran, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda come there for help navigating community resources and often engage with one another over hot tea and desserts, sharpening their conversational English skills in a pressure-free setting. Most of the women learn of Women of the World through word of mouth.

“We love to warm everybody’s heart,” Harnish said, while preparing a cup of hibiscus tea. “I love the way everybody comes in here and feels comfortable. Some of them that wear hijab, they take it off because they know the windows are tinted and there are no men so they feel very secure.”

Women of the World seeks to empower women by promoting self-reliance through service, education and economic development programs. As a nonprofit, Women of the World operates without government funding, instead relying on charitable donations and an annual fundraiser held the day after International Women’s Day. Harnish says she prefers to operate without federal assistance because it allows her to tailor Women of the World’s services without worry of a pushed agenda.

“When the government gives you the money, they always tell you to go that way or this way, you know, their way,” Harnish said. “I’m here to listen to them (the women) and do whatever they ask.”

Harnish and the case managers she employs work to help women create resumes, tighten interviewing and job skills, plan for entrepreneurship and acquire mental health and legal assistance. More importantly, they help instill in participants a deeply rooted sense of self-confidence through their practical English program. Launched as a two-month pilot program for six women with no English skills, by its conclusion all six women were able to gain employment.

When discussing self-reliance, terms like education and employment tend to rank paramount. While earning potential is indubitably connected to the ability to provide for oneself and family, Women of the World knows it is only one aspect and it differs by individual.

McKenzie Cantlon, a case manager at Women of the World, worked with refugees in Buffalo, New York, and the United Kingdom before relocating to the Salt Lake Valley. She says the economic and social support refugees receive has been phenomenal in all areas, but she’s noticed a problematic pattern: proximity to services.

In Utah, voluntary agency affiliates like Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee are based in Salt Lake City. That means refugees located farther north or south do not have the same access to essential resources. For this reason, Women of the World stresses self-reliance above all else.

“For some women self-reliance might be having the courage to leave the house and go grocery shopping or taking their children to the park,” Cantlon said in an email interview. “For other women this might mean going to school, getting a job and supporting their children without the help of others. Women of the World works to promote every kind of self-reliance.”

Courtney Bullard began working as a case manager for Women of the World in the summer of 2016. She lived in the Middle East for five years and attended graduate school in London. Bullard said she’s seen tremendous success from refugees working with Women of the World, but true economic independence isn’t always an option. Regardless, self-confidence is the first step to its path.

“There are a lot of barriers that refugees face upon coming to the USA because of how the resettlement process is set up,” Bullard said in an email interview. “We have women who might always rely on government assistance because of their various situations, however, when they advocate for themselves whether it might be asking for higher pay at work or looking the cashier at the grocery store in the eye at the store — I consider them on their way to self reliance.”

Regardless of definition self-reliance does not manifest overnight. Rather, it’s often an arduous journey that requires discipline and dedication. For Kaltum Mohamed, a Sudanese refugee, it’s taken four years to reach her dream of opening a restaurant.


Kaltum Mohamed standing in front of her food truck “Mother of All.”

Mohamed was resettled in 2013 after years of moving between refugee camps. After receiving assistance from the IRC for 10 months, she met Samira Harnish. Through their shared Arabic language, they quickly formed a powerful friendship.

Harnish said Mohamed approached her early on with the desire to open a restaurant — refusing to allow any obstacles to deter her confidence. However, after attending a few practical English classes she stopped showing up.

“The last day she got really upset and said she just wants to find someone to give her a loan,” Harnish said. “I told her, ‘No one is going to give you a loan unless you finish that program. You go in there and finish.’”

So Mohamed persisted. She now operates Mother of All, a food truck that can be found at The Black Diamond Store and The Front Climbing Club in Salt Lake City.

“They (WoW) help me too much,” Mohamed said reflectively in her South Salt Lake apartment. “And I always tell everyone, don’t give up on the things you need. Continue doing it and face everything with confidence.”

To commemorate the successes of refugee women like Mohamed, Women of the World holds an awards banquet and social mixer at the end of every year. In addition to inspirational stories, small ethnic meals are brought and shared by members of the community and musical entertainment is provided.

This year’s event will be held Dec. 9, 2017, from 2-5 p.m. at the Salt Lake County South Building Atrium on 2100 S. State St. It is Women of the World’s 7th Annual Celebration for women who achieve their goals and is free and open to the public.



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Gerald Brown, the dedicated man behind Salt Lake City’s refugee community

Story and photos by KAYA DANAE

Gerald Brown, the assistant director of refugee services and state refugee coordinator at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, has lived a life dedicated to refugees.

Gerald Brown at his office in the Utah Refugee Education & Training Center at 250 W. 3900 South, Bldg. B.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Brown’s passion for humanitarian work began after college, when he spent two years working in Cairo, Egypt, developing programs for the YMCA. He then went on to teach English in Taiwan for a little over a year. When he returned to the U.S. he inquired about jobs that meshed with the work that he had been doing overseas. He learned about a refugee resettlement program in the U.S. that had started while he was out of the country. He got a job at its Houston location, where he says his real education began.

The first family Brown helped resettle was Cambodian. They arrived the same day Brown started his job. “There were four people in the family. A father, mother, baby and a little boy– the little boy was very malnourished,” Brown said.

A photo given to Brown when he left his job in Houston. The man holding the sign is the Cambodian refugee whom Brown hired. Photo courtesy of Gerald Brown.

“They had been at the Khmer Rouge forced labor camps. The father told me their story and I couldn’t believe it. They were almost starved to death, it was very, very brutal,”  he said.

Throughout the ’70s tens of thousands of Cambodians fled to the Thai border because of the ongoing civil war and U.S.- led bombings. Khmer Rouge was a rebel-political group that established makeshift camps along the Thai border where Cambodian refugees were living under awful conditions. About one-fourth of the 8 million Cambodian people were murdered or starved during this time.

Brown spent four years working as a refugee resettlement job developer in Houston, and established a relationship with the father. Brown ended up hiring him to work the night shift at the refugee welcome center. The family has gone on to own a home and live a happy, healthy life, Brown said.

“He taught me that people are very resilient. It’s possible to overcome horrible experiences and go on. This job has shown me what people are capable of,” he said.

Brown was later hired as the director of refugee resettlement in New York City, where he met his wife and lived for 13 years. He began working for Asylum Corp. in 1995 and led a project where he brought social workers into Haiti with a military operation. After four years he felt restricted by the position and left.

He and his wife moved to Kanab, Utah, where he worked remotely giving technical assistance to a resettlement organization in Washington, D.C. Through this position he traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he worked with a U.S.- vetting organization. He also traveled to Macedonia, where he worked to prepare refugees for asylum, and Croatia, where he conducted the UN’s initial interview for Bosnian refugees.

Rachel Appel, the volunteer coordinator for the Know Your Neighbor Volunteer Program, has worked closely with Brown and emphasized his breadth of knowledge on refugees. “If I ever have any kind of question, he has the answer. He knows the policy, the cultural aspect of working with refugees, the history of refugees in the U.S. — really just all-encompassing,” Appel said. “He’s got really strong relationships with refugees here in Salt Lake City. One of the refugees, Joe Nahas, once said to me, ‘That man’s got heart,’ which just perfectly describes Gerald.”

Brown said with a smile, “I think working with refugees has enriched my personal life. It’s hard to imagine the two (work and personal life) being separate.” 

Utah Refugee Education & Training Center, where Brown, Appel, and Dulal work.

Gyanu Dulal, the refugee center program coordinator at the Utah Department of Workforce services, was a refugee from Bhutan. He recalls Brown’s dedication to his work. “I was introduced to Gerald in 2008 by one of our community members. Since then I have a very good relationship with him. I have never seen anybody so dedicated, motivated and committed to help the refugees.”

Dulal continues, “In these nine years that I have been working with him, I have never seen him say this cannot be done. Every refugee here has access to his personal cell phone. He is willing to talk to anyone at any time to find help the best way he can.”

Speaking about the most challenging aspect of his job, Brown said, “The way they (refugees) have been treated is infuriating. It’s very depressing and it just keeps getting worse and worse it seems. And that’s hard. I’ve had a hard time working within bureaucracy. There’s always red tape when you just want to cut to it and get stuff done. But, you know, you do what you can do.”

Brown quickly turned to the most rewarding aspect of his job. “Knowing refugees,” he said. “I know several people that have come out of camp with nothing. They are totally shell shocked, and there is PTSD and you just wonder how in the world are they ever going to make it, and they do. It’s perseverance, you know? It shows you what people can be capable of.”

While working with refugees has benefitted Brown in his personal life, Dulal emphasized how Brown has benefitted the refugee community.

“His tireless and dedicated effort to the Refugee Resettlement Center has been so helpful for all refugee communities to get the support that they need. We have employment, treatment, education, everything here. And this is a hub for people to come and learn about refugees as well, so it is an integrating space. Gerald reaches out to individuals to come forward, learn about refugees, make friends with refugees, that way they understand each other and help.”

Pamphlets advertising resources available to refugees.

Becoming emotional, Dulal said, “Gerald is the man I have known, he’s the best person I have ever found in my life. If anybody has a heart for the refugees, and knows more about refugees than anyone, it’s Mr. Gerald Brown. I have never found anybody so willing and so open to help refugees.”

Brown stressed the importance of education – learning about the global refugee crisis and understanding the situations facing people who are forced to flee their homes due to war and persecution.“Refugee resettlement is incredibly important. These people are refugees by no fault of their own. If anyone deserves support, it’s refugees and asylees,” Brown said. The Utah Refugee Education & Training Center offers many volunteer opportunities.

Refugee Justice League, SLCPD work to help refugees feel comfortable with justice system

Story and photos by EMILY ANDERSON

When then 17-year-old Abdullahi “Abdi” Mohamed was shot by police in downtown Salt Lake City in 2016, a wave of shock washed over the community.

According to reports from The Salt Lake Tribune, police said Mohamed was involved in an altercation and armed with a metal broomstick. When police ordered him to drop the weapon, Mohamed appeared to attempt to hit the man he was fighting, so officers fired at him. Mohamed’s family later disputed these claims.

Hundreds mobilized in support of the Somali refugee and rallied against police brutality toward people of color. Meanwhile, many refugees living in the Salt Lake Valley were paralyzed with terror.

“Anytime there is a publicized law enforcement-refugee conflict, it reinforces the fear [of law enforcement],” said Brad Parker, one of the founders of the Refugee Justice League, in a telephone interview.


Abdi Mohamed was shot by Salt Lake City Police at 200 S. Rio Grande St.

Refugees frequently have negative memories of police in their home countries, according to Natalie El-Deiry, the deputy director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) — one of the agencies that resettles refugees in Salt Lake City. Along with the military, law enforcement is commonly used to silence those who speak out against an oppressive government.

“One thing that is often the case with people who have fled persecution from another country is that they often didn’t have the protection of law enforcement when they fled,” El-Deiry said in a telephone interview. “So when people first arrive, there is definitely a skepticism or uncertainty around whether law enforcement is really there to protect you.”

Police officers frequently participate in behaviors considered war crimes by international organizations like Human Rights Watch. For example, Kenyan police officers repeatedly target Somali refugees with rape, arbitrary arrests and unlawful deportations.

Jodi Larson-Farrow of the Boise Agency for New Americans, which helps resettle refugees in Boise, Idaho, has interviewed recent refugees about their feelings toward police. Her research was included in a report on law enforcement relations with refugees released by the Police Executive Research Forum in May 2017. The words and phrases refugees most commonly associate with police, she found, are “fear, rapist, power, corruption, intimidation, no trust, they will beat you, they will take your life and run from them.”

“In addition to the language and cultural barriers that separate refugees and police in many U.S. localities, there is a deeper source of distrust that can hamper engagement from the outset,” read the report. “To fully understand the barriers that may stand in the way of building trust, U.S. police must be educated about the historical experiences of refugee communities with their native police forces.”

Refugees’ understanding of the U.S. justice system also tends to be influenced by the way criminal cases are handled in their country of origin. The Police Executive Research Forum’s report said that refugees’ home countries generally convict people of crimes more quickly than in the U.S. These experiences, the forum believes, led to confusion after Abdi Mohamed was shot.

“The Salt Lake City Police Department [SLCPD] discovered in the aftermath of a police-involved shooting of a refugee that members of the refugee community assumed there would be no consequences for the officer, simply because the investigation was still pending and they had not been aware of the process,” the report said. “As a result of this incident, the department recognized the need to expand their educational efforts to avoid confusion surrounding such issues in the future.”

After Abdi Mohamed was shot, SLCPD held town halls to assuage the fears of the refugee community and hosted Citizens Academy, which allows refugees and other Salt Lake City residents to learn how the department functions. SLCPD also has a refugee liaison, Detective Robert Ungricht, who attends community events in an effort to get to know refugees.

Ungricht said in a telephone interview that the department is working to bring refugees onto the force, but are running into problems because many refugees aren’t citizens. This is an issue that the Utah State Legislature, or even Congress, he said, would have to address.

“We’re trying our hardest,” Ungricht said. “We get told a lot that the refugee community sees that we’re really doing a lot more than some agencies. I’m happy to hear that they’re happy that we’re trying to fight for them and fight for their rights and give them these opportunities.”

The Salt Lake City Public Safety Building houses the Salt Lake City Police Department’s refugee liaison and Citizens Academy.

SLCPD attends orientation sessions given by the International Rescue Committee for newly-arrived refugees. Natalie El-Deiry said the police department has become an advocate for refugees who are feeling unsafe in the community.

“There’s always room for improvement, but I think [SLCPD] is doing a really great job,” El-Deiry said.

However, Brad Parker feels refugees in the Salt Lake Valley still struggle to rely on law enforcement. His group, the Refugee Justice League — a coalition of lawyers formed to defend refugees’ rights — is now trying to bridge that gap.

“The Salt Lake City Police Department has done a great job in an outreach effort to build trust with refugees,” Parker said. “The fear is just deep-seated enough that it hasn’t completely worked.”

The league was formed after President Donald Trump was elected, as some refugees faced harassment and were concerned about the prospect of Trump following through with threats to build a Muslim registry. Attorneys who have since joined the organization wanted to help represent refugees who feel they are being discriminated against or are in trouble. All lawyers working with the league do so pro bono.

If a refugee is at the police station, Parker said, an attorney will go meet with the refugee. The attorney will communicate that everything the refugee says is confidential and that the attorney’s priority is to help. If the refugee has been accused of a crime, the Refugee Justice League will then secure a criminal attorney. If needed, the representative will help the refugee communicate with police.

“In those cases, it’s a win-win. It’s a win for refugees, and it’s a win for law enforcement,” Parker said.

To help refugees navigate encounters with the police, the Refugee Justice League has distributed personalized cards. Each card includes the refugee’s name, photo and preferred language. It says that the cardholder is represented by an attorney from the Refugee Justice League and gives the refugee instructions on how to comply with law enforcement while protecting the person’s rights.

“We did the cards to help the refugees become more fully-engaged participants in the legal system,” Parker said. “It gives us the chance, as we assist them, to model appropriate behavior when you’re dealing with police — that is a polite, cooperative behavior in many instances.”

In order to receive the card, refugees must complete a training that instructs them on when it is appropriate to show it. The Refugee Justice League tells them not to use the cards in incidents like traffic stops or domestic disputes. Refugees are also taught how they are expected to react to police.

Parker said the organization had three goals in creating the cards — to protect refugees’ rights, to reduce fear and build trust and to enhance communication between refugees and law enforcement. Because refugees are often not yet citizens, giving police a false statement out of fear or not following instructions can result in a withdrawal of their refugee status and deportation.

“A lot of times if refugees are questioned by the police, they just clam up,” Parker said. “Sometimes they’ll pretend that they don’t understand the language — and sometimes they don’t. They’re worried that they might get in trouble for something they say, so they say nothing.”

When the card was first proposed, Ungricht worried that the cards would destroy the trust SLCPD has worked to develop with refugees.

“I was like, ‘That’s going to create some major tension,’” Ungricht said. “It’s going to knock down a lot of bridges that we’ve built in the [refugee] community.”

Since the league announced the program, they have worked with numerous groups including SLCPD, the International Rescue Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union to make changes to the card. El-Deiry said that through these conversations, the cards can accommodate all parties.

“I think that there is potential for [the cards] to be helpful,” said El-Deiry. “I think that there are some concerns around the Justice League actually working with law enforcement themselves to make sure that there is a unified voice around that, and those are some discussions that we’ve had and they’re ongoing.”

The Refugee Justice League believes that through the combined effort of SLCPD and attorneys, refugees will feel safer in the Salt Lake Valley. As a result, the league hopes refugees will be more cooperative and further integrated into the justice system and society.

But first, Parker said, law enforcement must continue to build relationships with refugees on an individual level.

“A lot of them are scared of talking to the police,” Parker said. “These psychological scars that they have aren’t just easily set aside. It’s hard to say, ‘Oh, don’t worry anymore, now the police are your friends.’ You can preach that all you want, but until they’ve had an experience that helps them realize that, there’s sort of this deep-seated fear that comes from their past.”

Read a related story about the Refugee Justice League.

Your Community Is Safe

By Jason Nowa

Being there for each other in a community can be burdensome for families trying to live in a safe environment. With Utah’s ever growing population there is more criminal activity throughout the years, and families tend to lean upon the local police for safety. This can be a constant concern for worried citizens. Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank (Voices of Utah) says “We are here for you. There’s no reason to be afraid.”

Burbank spoke recently to students at the University of Utah about the Salt Lake Police Department and the efforts his officers put forth to keep the state’s largest city safe.

Burbank, 46, has been on the force nearly half of his life, or 21 years on the job.

Burbank emphasized the need for the eyes and ears of all Salt Lake City residents in fighting crime. Last year alone there were 12,000 burglaries, he said. There are only so many police officers to go around, but, he said, many more citizens are able to see and report criminal activity. Everyone in a community can be a watchdog.

“Our role is to prevent crime,” Burbank said. “ We can only truly prevent crime when the community helps us and gives us a call.”

Communication skills can help descalate a tense situation very quickly if an officer can get into the mind of an individual. In spite of stereotypes from TV cop shows, most real police officers will never fire a service revolver in the line of duty, Burbank said.  The chief’s philosophy is to calm a difficult disturbance in various ways before ever thinking of drawing a weapon. In an unruly crowd, for instance, popular wisdom might demand police put on riot gear and use mace at any sign of danger. Burbank said the use of these measures at first puts on a defensive tactic and might quickly enrage an already excited crowd.

“Pepper spray is a use of force. There are other ways to calm a conflict,” he said.

He wants to remember to observe every person’s constitutional rights and the ability to voice opinions. Burbank’s approach would be to first have a conversation with people to help them, followed by telling them their options and then to put into action the safest decision possible.

Burbank said there is gang violence (Voices of Utah) in the Salt Lake area, mostly in Glendale and West Valley City. There are about 5 officer shootings a year. The law defines a gang as two or more people gathered and involved in criminal activity. Burbank said the majority of officers involved with shooting someone usually don’t last beyond five years on the job after an incident.

The gang violence in Salt Lake has become more silent in recent years with gangs staying off the police radar and drug dealing mostly. During his tenor he said the biggest gang he had to deal with was a Tongan Crip gang in Glendale but they are mostly nonexistent nowadays. Anybody that is involved in any way with gang activity whether they commit an actual crime or not are considered suspects and will be jailed for whatever involvement they have. Burbank emphasized this would help crack down on the friends who are just along for the joy ride.

Ethical dilemmas occur daily as Burbank emphasized, “We are part of the community, and we work for the public. And my responsibility is to not allow racial stereotyping. I will not allow my officers to act as such.”

Salt Lake Police officer in charge of Public Relations, Cary Wichmann, mentioned that police officers jobs are very serious in nature and that any help the community can ever provide is helpful information.

The Metro Gang Unit (Voices of Utah) was created to establish identity, control, and prevent criminal gang activity. This force provides data and assistance to all law enforcement agencies. This unit also provides helpful information for youth on alternatives to being involved in a gang, and provides education for the public about the destructiveness of the gang lifestyle.

The Metro Gang Unit works in part with the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake.

The UPD is a helpful specialized force that serves various communities within suburban Salt Lake. These participating cities share the costs with neighboring communities which save local governments and reduce the tax burdens of citizens. The pool of services that the UPD provides is SWAT, forensics, records, dispatches, K-9, and media services.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder is the CEO of the UPD. Winder oversees local precincts but that each precinct has their own commander which was chosen by the given city. Commanders are those who run the precincts and have authority over traffic, patrol, and crossing guards. Winder explained the organization of the UPD. Eight elected officials from participating communities serve as the Board of Directors over the UPD. They oversee global and local policies along with operational, budgetary, and human resource issues.

The Executive Management has Winder as the county sheriff serving as CEO. There are also financial and human resource management advisers. The various communities have joined together to have the UPD serve their cities. Operational and cost efficiencies are achieved by the sharing of resources that ordinarily wouldn’t be fully utilized by a single community.

From India to District Attorney; Sim Gill fights for Salt Lake County


As a young boy in India, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill developed a metaphorical theory from a real life experience.

Gill, 52, spoke in a faint Indian accent of a formative moment from his youth, to a classroom of 13 students recently at the University of Utah.  At the age of “eight or nine” in his native India, Gill said, he witnessed the brutal beating of a man accused of stealing jewelry from a neighbor’s home, and in the end, the beating of an innocent man.

“That left a very strong impression on me,” Gill said, “that when you have that authority, when you have that power, when you have that capacity to alter and impact people’s lives, you have to really use that with a great level of deference and responsibility.”

Gill immigrated soon after that with his family to the United States. Years later, Gill studied history and philosophy at the University of Utah and as a young prosecutor, this memory would influence his practices.  Gill’s background in philosophy was the obvious reasoning behind his principles as a liberal prosecutor, pronounced when he wrote the term “Restorative Justice” on the classroom whiteboard. That phrase, he explained, helps to explain his approach to addressing certain chronic crimes in Salt Lake County.

Since Gill took office in 2011, initiatives such as drug and mental health court are examples of how helping a troubled person is a much better option than simply incarcerating him.

Rehabilitation courts, Gill said, are one  solution to limited resources.  Having a “zero tolerance” policy is one thing many citizens want, but Gill described that model as “doomed to failure.”  Writing  on the whiteboard, again, Gill emphasized that a “zero tolerance” model would require unlimited resources, a limited number of cases and unlimited time.

Advocates for rehabilitation not only come in the form of Sim Gill, but organizations and individuals who have first-hand knowledge of addiction.

Volunteers of America (VOA) is a non-profit organization in Salt Lake City that deals with the homeless, directly on the street.  And former VOA employee, Kyle Patton, has similar sentiments towards Gill’s approach as a district attorney.

“It’s important to have those types of resources for the homeless. I think drug and mental health court help to put their [homeless population] behavior into context,” Patton said. “People get all up in arms about institutionalizing the mentally ill. But I think resources like these courts are one of the solutions to that problem.”

In late February, a rally at the Utah State Capitol was held for those, who like Gill and Patton, champion the issue of rehabilitation.  “Drug Court Works. Ask Us how,” one homemade sign read. Held by a woman among the hundreds of people who had gathered to implore Utah legislators for more funding.

“Hope=funding,” was another common sign at the rally, as recovering addicts and public officials spoke to echoed cheers.

“Not everybody needs treatment, but we all need an opportunity to have it,” said one recovering addict named Shannon. “Your story matters, so find your representative and tell them why recovery is so vital for our future. We can all work together to change the system.”

Gill’s ultimate mission is to help those who can no longer help themselves. And in the United States, the prison population is made up of 17 to 21 percent of mentally ill inmates, Gill said. This statistic that is the driving force behind rehabilitation courts for those afflicted with substance abuse and the mentally ill who no longer have support.

Utilizing these initiatives is completely voluntary, but those in dire situations can no longer say  they didn’t get a break,” Gill said. “Restorative justice” ultimately presents a solution, instead of simply viewing those who lack support for their issues, as a problem.  Organizations like VOA and rallies at the Capitol can help present opportunities to those in need of help, but Gill has actual power to change the way things work.

Those two hours that Gill spoke about his beliefs, he didn’t have to convince the students to vote for him, or find a way to get funding for a project.

It was just simply two hours of Sim Gill being exactly who he is.

Healthy food available for day cares


Helping Hands Inc. is a nonprofit organization that works with day care homes to provide a healthy and nutritional diet.

The program works with children under the age of 12 in day care homes. It strives to improve the day cares, mostly run by low-income families, to afford better quality meals for the children.

Helping Hands works with Child and Adult Care Food Program, known as CACFP. CACFP is a federal program that gives healthy snacks and meals to children and adults involved with day care programs.

According to the Helping Hands website, the program helps the caregiver have the funds to purchase better quality of food, such as milk, breads and meats.

It also reimburses homes for healthy meals given to the children, like a breakfast of fruit, vegetables or milk. To get reimbursed for a meal provided for children, a provider has to make a claim.

Day cares and providers can claim up to two main meals and two snacks per child per day.

Susan Ison, executive director at Helping Hands, said that when a provider follows the USDA nutritional guidelines, Helping Hands works with the Utah State Office of Education to receive reimbursement for food given to the day care children and a lot of times the provider’s children.

An estimated 98 percent of providers that Helping Hands supports are from low-income families, Ison said in an email. An estimated 75 percent are from different cultures and ethnicities and don’t speak English. To qualify the providers have to have proper licenses and they must be caring for at least one non-residential child.

Once enrolled, a provider must complete paperwork, including a daily record of the food that the children ate and which children ate what food. This paperwork is given to Helping Hands monthly.

To ensure that the funds provided to the caregivers are being used correctly and to help maintain a healthy, nutritional diet and a healthy environment, Ison said. Helping Hands staff makes an unannounced visit about two to three times a year.

Not only does Helping Hands help with financial situations, staff also offer training on sanitation and nutrition.

“We provide nutrition and care giving training both, in actual training classes at our office and in-home during home visits,” Ison said.

“The biggest help we could receive is letting people know that this program is available to all day care providers, both those who are legally licensed for day care and those caring only for related children,” she said.

Helping Hands has a full menu available with healthy options for families and providers to choose from, like celery sticks, strawberries and peanut butter.

It also keeps information accessible to families by keeping recipes readily available for everybody interested in a healthier diet.

According to the website, Helping Hands also provides more information for providers by using the CACFP site that allows plenty of information and tools to make the use of the nonprofit very easy. For example there is a “food tracker” available for providers to use.

“In the current economic environment, it is more and more difficult to afford good, quality, healthful foods for our children,” Ison said in an email. “I, personally, would not have my child in a day care – whether in a residential day care home, or a day care center – that was not participating on the food program. I feel it is that important!”

Helping Hands has staff available for contact through email or telephone.

To  join Helping Hands fill out a form of information online or visit the location on 2964 W 4700 S, Suite 111 in West Valley City.

Gay minorities in Utah can face double discrimination

Story and multimedia by KAREN HOLT BENNION

Watch Jerry Rapier direct a reading of “The Scarlet Letter” for the 2011-2012 season.

Listen to Jennifer Freed talk about Jerry Rapier, director of Plan-B Theatre Co.

Jerry Rapier has made a name for himself in Salt Lake City as an award-winning producer and director.

This is the 11th season of Plan-B Theatre Co. which he founded in 1991 with Cheryl Cluff and Tobin Atkinson. Rapier has been given many honors, including the Salt Lake City’s Mayor’s Artist Award in the Performing Arts in 2008. In 2009, he was given the title of Alternative Pioneer by Salt Lake City Weekly. With many successful plays, a rewarding career and a loyal partner who has been with him for 15 years, some might say that Rapier is living the “American Dream.”

However, despite his current success, he still remembers facing trying times in his past. Jerry Rapier is Asian-American and he is gay. Consequently, he faces a double hardship in Utah.

He was born in Nagasaki, Japan, to an alcoholic mother. When he was 8 years old he was adopted by an American family and went to live with them in New Mexico. Life with his new family was trying at times because his family was “very, very LDS,” he said in an e-mail interview. When he was 23, he mustered all of his courage to come out to the family. Rapier says it was difficult for a few years because they needed time to adjust. “They are great now,” he said.

As a minority who is gay, Rapier is part of a small number of gay minorities in Utah. He says the main reason for the low figure is due to demographics. “This is not a very diverse place, period,” he said in a recent interview. On the other hand, he believes that minorities who are also gay fear coming out because they could be ostracized from their families. “But I will say that I believe this to be changing, slowly, surely,” Rapier said.

“I think it’s almost impossible to live your life now and not know a gay person — and that changes your perspective,” he said in the e-mail.

He remembers how isolated he felt as a teen and is upset by the bullying that is escalating against gay teens today across the country, with some ending in suicides. As a result, Plan B joined 40 other local Outreach Partners to put an end to bullying. The event on Sunday, Nov. 14, was called “Different is Amazing.” The fundraiser included theater, songs and dance. The festivities opened with a short dance by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s Step Up group, which consists of dancers from Salt Lake City high schools. All proceeds went to the Human Rights Education Center of Utah.

Another advocate for civil rights is Cathy Martinez. She is the director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center at the University of Utah. She agrees with Rapier about the small number of gay minorities in Utah. While she acknowledges that Utah is predominantly white, she says gay minorities are trapped in a stigma of being “a minority within a minority.” They are virtually forced to live in two communities.

Her experience with international students at the U has led her to realize some Asian families do not embrace or encourage members who have different sexual identities. “We need to talk about race too when we talk of sexual discrimination,” Martinez says. She recounts helping a  gay couple, who were international students studying at the U from China and Korea. When the Korean student’s family found out he was gay, they immediately st0pped paying for his schooling. Without money to continue his studies,  he was forced to return home.

“Not all cultures look down on homosexuality,” Martinez says. Thailand is the Asian hub for sexual reassignment surgery. Moreover, before missionaries arrived in early America many Native American tribes respected gay and transsexual members. They believed them to be two spirited.

Plan B’s latest production, “She Was My Brother,” which was directed by Rapier, is about a government ethnographer who is sent to study the Zuni Tribe of the Southwest in the late 1800s. The government official becomes attracted  to a male transgender tribal member. The tribal member is revered by the Zunis as very wise. Ironically, the Native American calls people in the “white society” uncivilized because of their intolerance to its citizens who fall outside of what society deems normal.

Martinez feels that education about race and sexuality and ability level (blind, deaf and disabled) must filter down to more high schools, junior highs and communities. She is working hard to educate people at the college level.

Brandi Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, says her office is working on educating the public as well. She says that being a gay minority is enduring “double marginalization.”

“There is not state for federal protection in housing and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Balken says.

Protection is available for those based on race, age and gender under the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, the Americans with Disabilities Act helps those with different levels of ability. However, people at Equality Utah are continually working with local legislators to pass state and federal laws to help all citizens of Utah gain the same rights to fair housing and employment.

Gay and transgendered citizens in seven Utah cities and counties have some protection regarding employment and housing rights.  They include: Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Park City, Summit County, Logan, Taylorsville and West Valley City.

With the help of Jerry Rapier, Cathy Martinez and Brandi Balken, the future could look brighter for people of all races and gender identities who are in need of support.

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