As protesters against police brutality rested in the shade of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, listening to speakers and drinking water after a milelong walk in Saturday’s scorching heat, organizers had a surprise for them.
Behind the crowd, they carried out gallons and gallons of red paint, and, unbeknownst to many demonstrators, began pouring it on the street, using rollers to spread it across the four-lane road.
As the crowd caught on, they turned to watch. Some spilled into the streets, forming a circle around the impromptu street art. An organizer grabbed a megaphone, leading the crowd in chants of “too much blood.”
With temperatures reaching the 90s, these hundreds of protesters took to Salt Lake City’s streets Saturday to keep the heat on law enforcement and prosecutors in demanding justice for people gunned down by police.
The day marked nearly five weeks of protests in Utah’s capital since the catalyzing May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed in Minneapolis during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.
Armed with a megaphone, community activist Sofia Alcala walked across the wet paint, saying the new street color is “much more f------ accurate” than the glass art on the district attorney’s office building, which proclaims words like “Truth,” “Justice” and “Equality.”
She called it “misleading.”
“I’m so f------ sick and tired of asking our oppressors to work with us,” Alcala continued, saying that so far, activists hadn’t gotten what they want playing by government officials’ rules.
She said if Salt County District Attorney Sim Gill didn’t charge the Salt Lake City officers who killed Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal last month, the activists would force him.
“You don’t want to play nice? Fine, we won’t play nice,” Alcala said, reminding the protesters that Gill is an elected official and they could vote him out of office.
The crowd responded with a resounding cheer: “Justice for Bernardo!”
The afternoon’s demonstration began at a memorial erected near 900 South and 300 West, where the 22-year-old Palacios-Carbajal was killed by officers last month.
Alysha Perez, Palacios-Carbajal’s sister-in-law, spoke there, saying that before he died, he was tuned into police brutality issues. He always talked about how “cops were corrupt.”
She said her children miss their uncle, and her 3-year-old son still sees him and talks to him.
“So, we know he’s here right now,” Perez said. “We know that he feels us. We know that he knows we’re supporting him.”
She said he’d be so pleased that so many people were coming out to protest police.
From the memorial, the group proceeded to a nearby series of murals that includes other victims of alleged police brutality. From there, it was on to the district attorney’s office, where the roller brushes came out.
During the protests, speakers lamented how authorities seem to care more about property than people. After the pavement had turned crimson, the protesters staged a moment of silence to honor all the blood spilled in police shootings.
Demonstrators chanted “Rest in power, Bernardo.”
Along the way, bicyclists and motorists would drive in front of the marchers, blocking traffic at intersections so demonstrators could pass safely. One cyclist used his bike to stop a motorist who tried to drive through the crowd, FOX 13 reported. That person was uninjured, but the bike was damaged.
Salt Lake City police also blocked traffic for marchers.
In the morning, about 30 protesters drew attention to the death of Michael Chad Breinholt in police custody last August.
Breinholt, 31, was shot by West Valley City police Aug. 23 during a scuffle in a jail intake room after his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence, video footage has revealed.
Graphic police body camera footage released by West Valley City in September shows Breinholt grabbed an officer’s gun in a DUI processing area, though his hands were cuffed behind his back during the confrontation.
One of the officers is heard to say, “You are about to die, my friend” just before the shooting, according to an extensive review of the footage by The Salt Lake Tribune.
Breinholt’s brother Chase, who stood near flowers, signs and other tributes laid beneath the mural, said Saturday the shooting had not drawn adequate public attention and a probe into the death continued to stall.
“It’s been 10 months and our family has had no communication with the D.A. They have not given us any results from the investigation,” Chase Breinholt said.
“We’re not trying to take spotlight away from anybody, but we want my brother to be included,” he said. “Chad needs justice, and we’re being put on hold.”
Further demonstrations in connection with Breinholt’s death, the May shooting of Palacios-Carbajal and other incidents geared up again later Saturday near the same intersection.
Palacios-Carbajal was shot and killed by Salt Lake City police in the early morning of May 23. Responding to a gun threat at a motel, police chased the man for several blocks before firing more than 20 rounds at him as he ran away from them, body camera footage shows.
As the protest wound down Saturday, Alcala reminded demonstrators that they’re all family. She said if any one of them were killed by police, this same group would turn out to demand accountability.
It harked back to a speech she gave earlier in the day, soon after protesters arrived at the memorial. Before the marches. Before they painted the road red.
“Today is not only about Bernardo,” Alcala said. “It’s about Bernardo. It’s about Cody [Belgard]. It’s about Chad. It’s about Brian [Pena]. It’s about our all people who have been killed by police brutality — and those pigs always get away with it.”
“No more,” the crowd chanted. “No more.”
— Tribune photographer Francisco Kjolseth contributed to this story.