In Utah, one of the most socially conservative regions in the United States, prosecutors are attempting to charge George Floyd protesters with acting as a "gang" and is threatening them with life prison sentences if they are found guilty. The protesters who were charged are not even being accused of serious offenses, they are suspected of vandalism because paint was poured and splashed outside of a prosecutor's office, and a few windows were broken.
It is important to note that the prosecutor pressing the charges, Salt Lake City District Attorney Sim Gill, is the same prosecutor who had his office vandalized during the demonstrations, which means that there is an obvious conflict of interest in the case. He is attempting to charge people with murder for vandalizing his office. Attorneys for the protesters believe that this is a personal vendetta, and that Gill wanted to make an example out of them because they targeted his office and were chanting out his name during the demonstrations.
Under most normal circumstances, Gill would be expected to recuse himself from the case because of his personal involvement, but apparently the court is short-staffed due to the coronavirus, so this conflict of interest is being ignored. Gill insists that the case will be handled by another DA's office eventually, but by then the damage will already be done, and his quest for revenge on a personal vendetta will have already been set into motion.
The protests took place on July 9th, and was attended by a loosely organized group that gathered in support of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter cause.
A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told the Associated Press that prosecutors are essentially "calling participants in a protest gang members."
Gill downplayed the severity of the charges and sentences, and said that he doesn't think that anyone will go to prison for their offense. He appears to be trying to send a message, and to force the protesters into a plea deal.
There's some people who want to engage in protest, but they want to be absolved of any behaviour. This is not about protest. This is about people who are engaging in criminal conduct, Gill said.
However, there were many other charges that he could have chosen, from vandalism to breaking cerfew, but they would have not been felony charges with serious jail time, a threat that he wants to intimidate the suspects with.
The move was condemned by the city's mayor, Erin Mendenhall, who called the potential prison sentences "excessive."
While I believe there should be consequences for breaking the law, the potential to spend life in prison for buying paint is too severe, she said in a video on her Twitter account.
There are seven suspects charged in the case, all of them facing first-degree felonies for allegedly buying or transporting the red paint, and then splashing it on government property. Attorneys for the suspects are hoping that the charges are thrown out in court.