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SALT LAKE CITY — Standing on a street stained with freshly coated red paint in front of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office Thursday evening, protest leader Sofia Alcalá boldly claimed, “They are going to feel this one today.”
For weeks, peaceful protests — sometimes gatherings numbering in the dozens; sometimes the hundreds — have occurred on the steps of the DA’s office over the police killing of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal.
Those protesters wanted charges to come against the two officers who shot the 22-year-old. Palacios-Carbajal was shot as he ran away from cops; he dropped and picked up a gun multiple times during the pursuit.
On Thursday, District Attorney Sim Gill's ruling came: The officers were justified in their actions.
For the protesters, no charges meant no peace.
While police officers monitored the situation from blocks away, protesters painted the street red to symbolize Palacios-Carbajal's blood. Many dipped their hands in the paint and covered the walls and sign of the building with red handprints. Some painted messages on the steps and dozens of signs were left on the windows.
Following a peaceful march around a Salt Lake City block, the group of around 200 gathered again outside the District Attorney’s office. After messages were shared, including about how life would be for Palacios-Carbajal if the cops had “chose to use a taser,” some protesters took metal rods and smashed multiple windows of the building.
And with that, there was no more peace.
Salt Lake City police in riot gear formed lines on both sides of the protest about 8 p.m., and a police helicopter circled the group announcing it was now “an unlawful gathering.” While many of the sizable group dispersed at that time, a group of 50-100 stood shoulder to shoulder and faced down the police presence. With sirens shrieking and police car lights glowing, the group chanted, “We aren’t scared.”
The line of officers stormed the group using plastic shields to push the assembled protesters back. Some police swung clubs at protester's legs, while others pointed nonlethal weapons at the ground in the crowd's direction and fired. The protest group pushed back using a bicycle — which was taken and thrown to the side by the police — and threw water bottles, pieces of wood, and other debris toward the officers.
One officer went to the hospital for an unspecified reason, according to a tweet from police, and some protesters walked away limping. Two people were arrested, police tweeted about 9 p.m., but the reason was not given. In addition, a video posted on the Justice for Bernardo Facebook page about 11 p.m. shows police detaining someone who appears to be Alcalá and one other protester.
Just after 9 p.m., Utah Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency due to the civil unrest. The order restricts access to the Capitol, which was not targeted by protesters on Thursday but was defaced in a previous protest.
The order remains in effect until 11:59 p.m. on July 13.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown told KSL that Thursday's protest "took a turn for the worse" after the windows were broken.
Brown said police wanted to provide an environment where protesters could exercise their First Amendment rights and were prepared to allow some vandalism. There appeared to be no action taken by police until the windows were broken.
At that point, Brown said there were safety concerns since police didn’t know if individuals would enter the building or cause further damage.
“This is a very volatile and dangerous situation,” Brown said. “It’s really sad it’s come to this.”
The protesters, many of whom brought black umbrellas to block television cameras from filming the events, refused interviews with KSL.com.
After the police warned on a bullhorn that violence against officers would be met with force, the crowd left the scene and walked south on State Street, coming to a stop just before 700 South. After a few minutes, they walked back to the District Attorney’s office.
Walking arm-in-arm, the group of 50-100 protesters chanted “justice for Bernardo” as they turned left on 600 South to avoid another confrontation with officers before turning right on Main Street. When they arrived back at the District Attorney’s office they were once again met with by a line of officers.
Protesters chanted “let us go home” and police allowed them to walk east past the red-coated streets in front of the District Attorney’s office shortly before 9 p.m. Some in the group were spotted handing out lawyers' phone numbers to others. By about 9:40 p.m., the group had dispersed.
Contributing:_ Lauren Bennett, KSL.com; Alex Cabrero, Dave McCann and Deanie Wimmer, KSL TV