Salt Lake City: Vindictive State Pursues Life Sentences Against Protesters for DA Office Vandalism

By David Martinez

The Salt Lake County District Attorney, Sim Gill, has charged a total of eight protesters in relation to vandalism that occurred against his office building during a protest on July 9. The protesters face felony rioting charges, and in a clear move to intimidate, seven of those charged have been given a gang enhancement, which comes with a possible sentence of five years to life in prison.

The charges have been decried by legal advocates and protesters as nothing more than the DA’s retaliation for the bold action against his office, which taped up hundreds of flyers and wrote slogans on surfaces, broke windows, and splashed the building and office sign with red paint to represent the blood on the hands of police officers and state officials. The protests were in response to DA’s lack of charges against officers for their killing of 22-year-old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, who Salt Lake City police murdered as he fled from them on May 23.

Gill absurdly referred to the bold protest as “an assault on every one of us.” DAs are ruling class agents who prosecute the law selectively and primarily against workers, the poor, and those who challenge the bourgeoisie’s rotten system.

In a clear conflict of interest, Gill set and filed the outlandish charges himself. He would have prosecuted the cases, but has performatively brought in an ‘independent prosecutor’, a retired judge. He has set the charges at the absurdly high levels which intend to pressure plea deals to lesser charges that could still carry jail time and significant consequences.

One of the protesters is being charged for allegedly buying the paint that was used in the action. She told bourgeois media outlet, The Daily Beast, that, “I’m not scared because I think that I did anything wrong, because I know that I didn’t, but it would be very foolish of me to look at the potential for life in prison and not be scared. When I heard about that [the charges], I realized that in the eyes of the state, I had become an enemy for exercising what is supposed to be a protected right.” 

The charges, whether they stick or not, are intended to criminalize the defendants and prejudice a jury against protesters, to paint those protesting police violence as part of criminal gang enterprises. Gill, who refuses to prosecute officers for killing oppressed members of the community, considers life in prison a justified sentence for protesters who dare to put paint and paper on building walls.

Without irony, the state is using the historically racist gang classifications to prosecute protesters against racist police violence. Gang classifications originated in the 90s to target primarily Black and Chicano street gangs in working class communities. The intended purpose was not to aid these communities in their struggle with anti-people activity, but to carry out further repression against the working class and particularly its youth.

The use of the gang classifications against young protesters, some of them oppressed minorities themselves, is in line with the state’s methods of control and repression against workers and those who rebel against imperialism’s dying system. Solidarity with protesters must be vigorous and resolute against the state’s desperate efforts to stamp out rebellion.

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