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Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Salt Lake police and Utah Highway Patrol troopers force protesters out of the Chamber of Commerce Building at 175 E. 400 South in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. The protest over the Utah Inland Port began at the City-County Building and moved to the Chamber of Commerce Building where the port authority meets.
SALT LAKE CITY — The day after Gov. Gary Herbert denounced a protest over the inland port earlier this week as “borderline terrorism,” a group of organizers told reporters they meant the protest to be “peaceful” and that “police brutality” escalated violence to punching and shoving.
“It is our right to occupy these spaces, and for police to rain such violence on us peacefully occupying spaces shows their interests do not lie with the people, it lies with private property,” said Carlos Martinez, an organizer with the Rose Park Brown Berets, one of the groups who joined in on Tuesday’s protest at the Chamber of Commerce Building.
Organizers from other groups, including Civil Riot, Utah Against Police Brutality and University of Utah’s Students for a Democratic Society, attended Thursday’s news conference at the Sierra Club offices.
Organizers told reporters their groups did not encourage or condone violence, and that violence was incited by police after they began shoving, dragging and in some cases punching protesters. They blamed police for not giving a “unified dispersal request” to the entire group and rather began using force to remove protesters after only telling individuals to leave.
“We were completely unprepared for police to choke, throw, corral and punch us,” Martinez said.
Organizers also blamed media for “sensationalizing” the violence and for drowning out their message against the proposed Utah Inland Port — a project they say will contribute to climate change, harm the Wasatch Front’s air quality and negatively impact all Utahns, particularly Salt Lake City’s west side where many poor and minority populations live.
They claimed the proposed inland port and other social issues, including police brutality, are interconnected because they say the port represents privileged interests while also more negatively impacting poor and minority groups.
At the same time, organizers acknowledged some protesters pushed and shoved back at police officers after being told to leave, actions they said they did not condone. They also noted that many protesters at Tuesday’s demonstration weren’t part of their organizations.
“This was a huge learning experience for Salt Lake City as a whole,” said Anthony Anco, who described himself as a community organizer and “communist.”
“Yes, we made mistakes,” Anco said, when reporters questioned why the protest escalated to violence and pressed why protesters were fighting with police and in some cases reporters.
“I think there should be a lot more discussion … of how to mitigate that,” he said.
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However, Anco also said the governor’s comments calling the protest “borderline terrorism” only “put a target on all (protest) organizers’ backs.”
He also continued to blame police for escalating the violence.
“There was a lot more violence on their end,” he said. “This wasn’t just a one-sided thing. They weren’t protecting anyone. They choked a lot of people and brutalized a lot of people.”
Eight protesters were arrested Tuesday for investigation of charges ranging from assault against a police officer, trespassing, rioting and resisting arrest, according to Salt Lake police.
This story will be updated.