SALT LAKE CITY — Protesters involved in an out-of-control demonstration against a proposed inland port this week accused Salt Lake City police of inciting the violence.
“I was next to so many of my homies, so many of my friends, so many of my protesters getting choked out by the police,” said Anco, a local Communist and protest organizer.
Police arrested eight people Tuesday after the protest at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce building turned violent. Five of those people were booked into jail. The other three received citations and were released.
Anco and members of several other groups involved in the protest said during a news conference at the Sierra Club Thursday that they told fellow protesters ahead of time not to become violent. They further claimed they were peaceful the entire time, clarifying that that meant they were unarmed.
“We were completely unprepared for the police to choke, throw, corral, and punch us,” Anco said.
They said any person who became violent was not affiliated with any of the groups putting on the protest.
The demonstrators criticized police, claiming officers never gave a “unified dispersal request” that everyone could hear.
Organizers also claimed they should be allowed to demonstrate inside the Salt Lake Chamber’s offices.
“It is our right to occupy these spaces, and for police to rain such violence on us peacefully occupying spaces shows their interests do not lie with the people. It lies with private property,” said Carlos Martinez, with a group called Rose Park Brown Berets.
But the protesters drew criticism from a range of people including ordinary citizens to Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biscupski, a Democrat, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, who called what happened “borderline terrorism”.
Video of the event shows people jumping up and down in the chamber offices, yelling, chanting, and not leaving the building. Journalists covering it reported being attacked or having their cameras blocked.
Protesters have also been accused of breaking security cameras inside the building.
“We will cooperate [with the police investigation] in what ways we need to. However, we are not going to be martyrs for this either,” Anco said.
When asked about the hole that was punched in the wall during the demonstration, one woman at the press conference responded, “What about the destruction of the environment?”
The organizers also aired their grievances against the media and state leaders several times, and called the inland port project “environmental racism.”
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