Protesters Demand Protest Charges Be Dropped and for Sim Gill to Resign


Ivana Martinez

Demonstrators head back to the Utah State Capitol on Aug. 22, 2020 after marching the streets to demand charges be dropped for the protesters facing felonies from a July 9 protest.

By Natalie Colby and Ivana Martinez

Almost three months since Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal was shot and killed by Salt Lake City Police Department and a month and a half since the killing was ruled justified by District Attorney Sim Gill — the local organization Justice for Bernardo hosted a protest on Aug. 22. The protest was held to demand all charges be dropped for demonstrators who protested against the inland port in 2019 to those who came out on July 9.

On July 9, protesters with Justice for Bernardo allegedly poured red paint on the street, splashed paint on the building and broke about three windows. Several protesters are facing felony charges, including Madalena McNeil, whose story has received national attention. 

Aug. 22, protesters met at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City at 6 p.m. and listed several demands —  remove the conflict of interest by letting Gill choose his judge and prosecutor, repeal the gang enhancement law, remove all charges for protesters from the inland port protest to the present, repeal all laws that infringe on their right to free speech and for Gill to resign.

Deja Gaston, from the Salt Lake Chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, spoke about the situation in Salt Lake and how she feels the working class is unstoppable when united. 

“This summer, as a result of a historic rebellion against racism, our so-called political leaders offer up mild police reform measures with one hand while imposing outlandish charges against our community organizers with the other hand. We are attacked with felony charges and threats of light sentences in prison for allegedly purchasing paint. This ridiculous response makes it extremely clear that they see our anti-racist movement as a threat,” Gaston said. 

As of Aug. 21, Dane Nolan, a retired judge, was hired to prosecute the eight protesters accused of damaging the district attorney’s office. Nolan reduced their possible sentences to 5 to 15 years by lowering their charges from first degree felonies to second and third. 

However, protesters still want all the charges completely dropped. 

McNeil said she was clearly happy when the charges were reduced, but she’s still angry it was only the eight of them, citing protesters from the May 29 protest who face similar charges to which she was originally facing.

“When people [first] started getting charged no one really said anything. And then as soon as I got charged, it was f—— worldwide news … because I’m a white woman,” McNeil said. “This is clearly a system that’s designed to kill Black and Brown people. And when it gets caught treating a white woman the same way that it treats people of color, then there’s a problem and that’s what we saw this time and that cannot be allowed to continue.”

Protesters heard from several more speakers at the capitol, echoing the earlier sentiments of power being in the hands of the people, calling for charges to be dropped, Gill to resign and promising they will be out on the streets until the demands were met. 

Protesters then started marching towards the district attorney’s office, carrying bags of rose petals they scattered along the way. 

At the intersection of North Temple and State Street, protesters were met with police trying to redirect the large crowd. The protesters ignored the police’s suggestions and continued to walk down the street. 

Protesters chanting “Drop those charges, we won’t stop marching” and “Sim Gill resign, you dirty swine,” stopped periodically at intersections to drink water and to stop traffic. 

Sofia Alcala, one of the founders of Justice for Bernardo, spoke to the crowd at Main Street and 300 South and talked about the group’s bond and her desire to continue the fight. 

“The revolution is not easy and it does not come without charges. There are sacrifices that must be made … but our bond will not break under pressure because it was formed under pressure,” Alcala said. 

Once protesters reached the district attorney’s office, they heard from other protesters who are facing charges from the July 9 protest, including Michelle Mower, whose nose was broken and had to go to the trauma unit after being hit by riot police. Mower said these charges have become invasive to her life and even caused her to lose her job. 

Mower read a commentary written by Gill in 2018, published in the Salt Lake Tribune, where Gill wrote, “I ran for this office to do the difficult work that our community demands and deserves. The privilege of leadership is far more than a title. It is an opportunity to put our best effort forward, in the service of our community, guided by our ideals of justice, fairness, equality and truth. It is about solving problems, righting wrongs, giving voice to the hopeless and advocating for the unheard and forgotten. In short, it’s about serving you.

When Mower asked the group if Gill had served the community, guided by ideals of justice, fairness and equality, she was met with a chorus of nos.

Marvin Oliveros spoke to the crowd and said after years of speaking with Gill and fighting for justice for his brother, Cody Belgard, he is inspired by the younger generation fighting. 

I’ve been asked on occasion what justice looks like to me, and what justice would be for Cody. There’s a lot of things that that justice looks like, but one thing I know for sure is justice for all means justice for Cody,” Oliveros said.

Protesters covered the district attorney’s office doors and windows with posters made by the Local Propagandists, a common protest tactic for the Justice for Bernardo group. Posters read “No good cop, no bad protesters” and “Drop all charges, support protesters, fight political repression” among other things. The posters were taken down later that night.  

The Salt Lake City Police Department declined to comment on the protest. 

Protesters then marched back together up to capitol hill, continuing to chant, before dispersing. 

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