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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. (Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News)
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Activists Defend Actions At Inland Port Protest

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Activist groups on Thursday defended themselves in response to the protest against the Inland Port Authority that turned violent earlier in the week.

Many of those protesters have been vocal about the expected environmental impact of the inland port —  project that’s setting up a project of trucks, planes and trains that’s billed as upping Utah’s import/export business.

Those concerns, however, were overshadowed by the chaos that erupted at an Inland Port Authority meeting Tuesday. Protesters and police clashed at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce offices, and eight activists were arrested.

Since then, Gov. Gary Herbert publicly condemned the protest, calling it “borderline terrorism.”

Representatives from several groups, including Civil Riot, Utah Against Police Brutality, and University of Utah’s Students for Democratic Society, held a press conference Thursday to defend themselves. They argued that the bigger message of climate impact was being lost because the media was focusing instead on the violence at the demonstration.

The activist groups also claimed they’d gone through other channels trying to get their voices heard, and protesting was not their first attempt at communication with government officials.

 


WATCH: Full Press Conference

Warning: Some strong language


 

“We have been at city halls,” said Carlos Martinez with the Rose Park Brown Berets. “We have been at community councils. We have voiced our concerns about this, and nobody is listening.”

“This something that’s impending and affecting us all,” he added. “We cannot wait for people to call on us when they are not wanting to listen in the first place.”

Martinez and others present during the press conference said they’re especially concerned for people who live on the western side of the city where the port will be built — many of whom are people of color.

Protest organizers don’t deny they occupied the space at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, but they did claim it was done peacefully and did not turn violent until police showed up.

“They came in, and they came in with violence,” Martinez said.

In a statement, a Salt Lake City Police Department representative said law enforcement is supportive of citizens’ rights to protest. However, there are times when they need to intervene, as was the case Tuesday when the protest went onto private property.

In another press release, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said  “Salt Lake City has a long history of protecting first amendment speech rights…but if they’re going to engage in violent or destructive behavior, we’re going to stop them.”

 


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