Riding the Red Line Train Downtown

July 29, 2020

“The Red Line Train to downtown Salt Lake will board in five minutes.”


My hands shake as I keep them folded in my lap. I balance a rented electric scooter with my feet precariously while waiting anxiously for the Trax to come. The station is empty. There aren’t even any cars driving by. Besides my labored breathing through my ‘Ie Lavalava wrapped tightly around the lower half of my face, the air is still and quiet. Recognizing the oncoming anxiety attack, I slow my breathing down. I count inside my head to ten and exhale on a five-count. The Twitter feeds that I follow said that there would be police on the Trax, trying to dissuade people from approaching the protests downtown.


Remain inconspicuous if possible. Don’t call attention to yourself.

 

Focusing on my breath and relaxing my shoulders, I manage to still my hands as the Red Line train finally arrives. The vertical blue and red split paint job reflects the lights of the station. Breathing out a long sigh, I gather my things and shuffle my way into the train car. I maneuver myself into one of the chairs on the inside of the car and sit down with a huff.


Glancing around, I take in the almost horror-movie-like emptiness of the train car. Typically, even during non-peak hours, there are one or two people spaced out in the cars. But today, an unholy combination of COVID-19 and the protests have left this car empty. Pulling my gloves up a little tighter, I glance out the window as the Salt Lake City landscape flies by. Small businesses and piles of trash speed past at a blistering pace as the train moves me closer to confrontation.


My eyes close and I ruminate on why I’m traveling on the Trax today.
 

George Floyd

 

Breonna Taylor

 

David McAtee

 

Natosha “Tony” McDade

 

Yassin Mohamed

 

Finan H. Berhe

 

Sean Reed

 

Steven Demarco Taylor

 

Ariane McCree

 

Terrance Franklin

 

Brandon Webber

 

Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal

 

As I think and mouth each name, my chest hurts from the waves of sorrow and grief that roll through my body. I have not known any of these people personally, but their stories resonate within me. Breonna Taylor, asleep in her bed when an illegal no-knock warrant cost the world her smile. Her murderers are still free to this day. George Floyd, a man murdered for a suspected counterfeit check. My body flinches as I recall his screams from the video that I saw. It was genuinely haunting, hearing his cries for his mother, and my heart shatters when I think of what his mother would be going through if she were alive to see her baby murdered like that.

 

“We are sorry for the inconvenience, but due to an ongoing situation downtown, the Red Line train will be stopping at the Central Pointe Station. I repeat: due to an ongoing situation downtown, the Red Line train will be stopping at the Central Pointe Station.”

 

A shudder runs down my back when I look outside towards the platform. A group of police officers stand together. I see that they are talking to each person as they get off the train, and a spike of fear and apprehension blazes through my stomach at the thought of passing through their group.

 

My palms are wet with sweat in my gloves. From my stomach, a rising heat of anxiety spreads throughout my body. That heat fills every nook and cranny, from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.

 

I inhale a shuddering breath and grab my things. I maneuver down the steps; my heartbeat echoes in my ears, and I do my best to remain unobtrusive and unnoticeable. I shuffle past the policemen on the platform and keep my head down. I trust my ‘Ie Lavalava and sunglasses to help protect my anonymity.

 

My luck holds, and I make it to the platform’s end, quickly hopping onto the electric scooter. I start to accelerate, leaving the station behind as I head toward downtown.

 

Zooming up West Temple, the houses and apartment buildings blur together.

 

George Floyd

 

Breonna Taylor

 

David McAtee

 

Natosha “Tony” McDade

 

Yassin Mohamed

 

Finan H. Berhe

 

Sean Reed

 

Steven Demarco Taylor

 

Ariane McCree

 

Terrance Franklin

 

Brandon Webber

 

Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal

 

Too many names. Too many names to remember, too many innocent bodies left lying on cold asphalt, the light fading from their eyes as people look on with cameras and horrified visages. If I were in the wrong place at the wrong time, would people film my death? My murder? Would someone step in and save me from the boot or knee on my throat? Would you wonder what I did to deserve this injustice? Would my skin color make it easier for you to assume that I was in the wrong and that I deserve this death sentence that hangs over me like an ever-present specter? How can I prove to you that I do not deserve this? How can I de-weaponize my skin, so the next time I get pulled over or walk past a cop, they don’t automatically reach for their weapon? At this point, I’m screaming for you to understand, to see, to believe the words that I am saying. That countless other people that look like me talk like me, act like me, who are like me, deserve to be treated as human beings at the very minimum.

 

Finally, I reach the intersection right before Liberty Park. I hear loud shouts and explosions. The air is tinged with smoke. The acrid scent barely makes its way through my improvised mask. Moving towards the park center, I quickly take out the water and food that I brought for the people protesting and begin to hand it out. The water is gone in a flash, and the musubis last just as long. My self-imposed mission done, I turn and gaze towards the center of the crowd. The burned-out remains of a flipped-over police car speak to how serious this protest is. I look to the right and see another car on fire, small explosions sending pockets of smoke rising into the air. I turn in a circle, taking in everything I can. The swell of people moves back and forth like the ocean tide, receding for but a moment and then surging forward with righteous anger to crash against the wall of costumed actors. Towards the crowd’s front, a young Black woman stands and shouts into her microphone, “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.” Her words resonate deep inside me, my heartbeat starts to pick up the pace, and that ever-present specter of foretold death takes a step back. Raising my fist and using vocal cords that for so long have been quiet, I echo the voices that intertwine with mine.

 

“NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE.”

 

Matthew Kimbrough was born in Torrance, California. He graduated with a degree in International Studies with an emphasis on Environmental Studies from Utah State University, and he is a Brother of the Psi Sigma Phi Multicultural Fraternity. He completed his first graduate program in Geographic Information Systems at the University of Utah. Following that he was accepted into the Environmental Humanities program at the University Of Utah. He has several amazing Brothers—Adrian, Raffy, Sia, Junior, and RB, to name a few. 

 

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