Last week, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill made a shortsighted and unfortunate decision to file felony charges against Viviane Turner, Michelle Mower and Madison Alleman for splashing red paint on the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and accompanying road. Gill should reconsider those charges.
As a lawyer, I understand that the D.A. must enforce the law. But a D.A. also plays an important role in determining which cases are worthy of our judicial resources and reflect the morals and values of our society. A D.A. should display civility and restraint, avoid biased or retaliatory behavior and interpret the spirit and not merely the letter of the law.
In the case of these three young people, both the spirit and the letter of the law are in question. These individuals were exercising their right to assemble and protest an action of the state, an essential and foundational freedom. That these three individuals chose paint — and not rocks or bullets — demonstrates that they both respect the value of county government property and understand the value of expressing their message forcefully. Paint can easily be removed or painted over, and the damage to county property from the paint can’t be more than minimal.
Now to the letter of the law. As Gill is undoubtedly aware, the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from limiting speech. In this case, the act of using red paint to demonstrate pain, suffering and state violence was undoubtedly speech. And I hope that at least one of these young people will find that the ACLU or another attorney is willing to test that theory in the U.S. Supreme Court.
It is not worth ruining the lives and futures of these three young people due to paint meant to send an important message.
Sam Johnston, Salt Lake City