On June 9, Salt Lake City saw the furthering of grave injustices in Utah. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill declared that the two cops who killed Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal acted within the law and would not be reprimanded.
This announcement comes after months of peaceful protesting and pursuit of legal justice from the “Justice for Bernardo Now” movement, led by local activists with support from Bernardo’s family and friends.
The decision clearing officers Neil Iversen and Kevin Fortuna was filled with victim-blaming and half-truths. Gill continually fixated on the failures of Bernardo rather than the excessive violence and misconduct of the cops who killed him. Gill insisted that officers killed Bernardo because they feared for their life and that they were trying to avoid “line of fire.”
What “line of fire”? Bernardo never fired a single shot and was only said to have “presented” his gun after he had been fired at several times by two officers and fallen to the ground.
The lead officer clearly demonstrated that he didn’t feel that they were in extreme danger because he implored the other officers to “tase him [Bernardo]” three times. Yet, Iversen and Fortuna supposedly felt threatened enough by a man running away and fired 34 times at the back of the fleeing Bernardo.
Salt Lake City Police are supposed to be trained to handle these exact situations but again and again they mishandle then lie. It is obvious SLCPD used excessive, unnecessary violence, and now Bernardo is dead because of it. Instead of acknowledging any wrongdoing by SLCPD, Gill implied it was Bernardo’s fault he was killed.
In the wake of such distasteful and unjust events, there was a sincere sense of anger at the protest following the acquittal of Iversen and Fortuna. Protesters painted the district attorney’s building red. Family and friends of Bernardo spoke about their deep pain knowing Bernardo’s killers would not face justice. This feeling was encapsulated when a protester grabbed a megaphone and said, “They said trust the process. Trust the process. Well the process has failed!”
Another protester pounded their hands on the building and yelled “F--- this building and everything it stands for!”
It was clear the DA’s building represented a physical manifestation of the oppressive police force and broken legal system. In a act of frustration, folks begin to smash the windows of the DA building. Unlike Iversen and Fortuna, these actions weren’t excessive. Five windows were broken then protesters linked arms in a chain of solidarity as heavily armed riot police marched towards them. After a few tense moments, the police charged.
Police showed little restraint. One protester had her nose broken by police smashing their shields into the protesters. She was also directly shot by a rubber bullet fired by a police officer who was less than four feet away from her.
Another woman had her knee smashed so violently by a police officer’s baton that it became dislocated. Crippled by this brutality, medics had to carry her to a car that then rushed her to a hospital. Another protester was shot in the forehead by a rubber bullet and blood soon covered most of his face. Many more left the protest severely beaten and bruised.
The people’s collective anger against injustice culminated with a few damaged windows and some red paint. Does a broken window qualify the right to break a nose? Does red graffiti give cops the right to spill the blood of protesters? Many would argue there has been evident excessive use of deadly violence by the SLCPD time and time again. Hence it is deeply revealing to respond to protests that seek to challenge this injustice with more excessive violence.
Furthermore, SLCPD have stated that after Thursday’s protest, civil-disobedience will “no longer be tolerated.” All of this reaffirms the reality that SLCPD not only values private property over human life but SLCPD represents those who want “order” over a disruptive justice. Thus, SLPD threatens more police brutality against those who protest against police brutality.
Nevertheless, the people will not be deterred. SLCPD’s oppressiveness is being exposed. The fight for justice continues. All power to the people and Justice for Bernardo!
Cole Cooper, Salt Lake City, has participated in the non-violent protests in Salt Lake City for the last five years.