LOCAL NEWS

Racist Messages, Threats Disrupt Transformative Justice Conference

Feb 20, 2021, 10:05 AM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Racist messages, threats and even child porn bombarded participants of an online conference, and organizers and participants said they believed the attack may have been launched by white supremacists.

Ken-Tay Lee said he was presenting at the seventh annual Transformative Justice and Abolition Criminology Conference around 1:45 p.m. Friday when the Zoom meeting was overwhelmed.

“A lot of different pictures were coming up of people joining the conference,” explained Brock Smith, a Salt Lake Community College student who helped facilitate the event. “I was like, ‘This is kind of strange.’ Most people don’t just rush in this late into a conference. I noticed these pictures becoming more obscure and crazy or strange, if you will. Then, we started hearing this crackling noise and then our (microphones) were overcome by what sounded like multiple voices — males, females, just all these different voices—saying racial slurs, that ‘we will kill you,’ you know, racial slurs, and it escalated to a point that there was child pornography.”

Smith said moderators of the conference — which was co-sponsored by SLCC and several other groups — tried to delete or mute the accounts, but the situation grew worse.

Xris Macias, director of the Dream Center at the University of Utah and national director of research at the nonprofit group Save the Kids, said he hosted the event on his personal computer and was essentially forced to shut it down two hours early.

“It was very disturbing,” Lee said. “We see these messages. These are very much threats of violence and they feel the same way as violence.”

Police were looking into what happened and who was responsible.

Macias said it appeared several emails were used in the attack.

Regardless of who was involved, organizers said the evidence pointed to a case of racism and bigotry.

“It’s not a way to live,” Smith said. “Thinking like that constricts your mind, it constricts your essence, it limits your understanding. For me personally, I live my life trying to gain understanding every day and it’s a beautiful thing when I can.”

Smith also said what happened was very similar to what unfolded Save the Kids.

“I think it has to be local because, you know, two weeks ago at a meeting with the Black Student Union — that was attacked,” Smith said. “Why would someone on a national level pinpoint and target Salt Lake Community College and a Zoom meeting for a Black student union?”

Everyone KSL interviewed said what happened would only strengthen their resolve to seek greater equality in areas of criminal justice and education.

“This type of incident gives us the message that we are doing something right if they’re trying to put a stop to it,” Macias said.

Smith said every step taken by hate groups in opposition would result in two more steps from him in a positive direction.

“It’s hard to see this in a nation where this shouldn’t exist again,” Lee said. “We will love and trust and we will use our education to prepare a different way of thinking. They’re on the wrong side of progress.”

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Racist Messages, Threats Disrupt Transformative Justice Conference