Some Black Lives Matter protesters in Utah face charges that carry a potential life sentence, The Associated Press reports.
Protesters arrested for splashing paint and smashing windows during a protest were charged with felony criminal mischief with a “gang enhancement.”
Prosecutors said the charges were justified because the protesters worked together to cause thousands of dollars in damage but rights groups were concerned that prosecutors invoked a 1990s-era “broken windows policing” law against protesters decrying the criminalization of Black people.
It’s unclear how many protesters face the charge. More than 30 people have been charged with various crimes in Salt Lake County stemming from the protests.
DA says no one is going to prison:
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said that protesters were more likely to face five years in prison if convicted but predicted that none would serve prison time.
“I don’t think anyone is going to be going to prison on this,” said Gill, who marched with protesters and declined to charge dozens who were accused of violating a curfew.
But Gill said Still, he argued “there’s some people who want to engage in protest, but they want to be absolved of absolved of any behavior.”
“This is not about protest, this is about people who are engaging in criminal conduct,” he said.
“We have to have some agreement of what constitutes protected First Amendment speech,” Gill added. “When you cross that threshold, should you be held accountable or not?”
ACLU decries charges:
Despite Gill’s claim, Madalena McNeil, one of the protesters facing the charges, said all defendants had to post $50,000 bail.
“This is so far beyond just the enforcement of the law, it feels retaliatory,” McNeil told the AP. “It’s really frustrating and scary ... I just feel so much concern for what this means for the right to protest in general.”
The ACLU said invoking the gang law was troubling in a protest led by people of color.
“You are calling participants in a protest gang members,” said attorney Jason Groth.
“This is the highest degree felony. This is usually reserved for murders and rapists,” said attorney Brent Huff.
“No one should get life in prison for putting paint on a building,” added defense attorney Jesse Nix.