Pandemonium and violence erupted at the Utah Chamber of Commerce building after police officers arrived to remove demonstrators protesting ICE detainments and the planned inland port development from the building’s lobby and its sixth floor.
The boiled-over tensions from the inland port development continued throughout the week, with public official after public official condemning Tuesday's violence.
Gov. Gary Herbert called it "borderline terrorism," though others didn't go that far.
“As Mayor, I support the right of all citizens to peaceably assemble and protest the actions of government,” Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a news release on Wednesday. “It is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy to do so. I do not, however, condone violence of any kind, no matter the situation.”
Last week, City Weekly’s Peter Holslin took a deep dive into one of the most active groups resisting the inland port. We predicted a riot—and it looks like we got one.
The protest, which was organized by ICE Free SLC, SLC Brown Berets, Civil Riot and others, started as a peaceful demonstration at the steps of the City and County Building but soon moved across 400 South, briefly blocking traffic, into the lobby of the Chamber of Commerce building.
“Abort the port!” and “ICE violence is police violence” were among a plethora of chants that protesters—many of whom brought makeshift drums and banged against the lobby windows—shouted in unison. Some protesters sported outfits featuring buffalo, birds and other wildlife, representing the species that could be impacted by the inland port’s development.
Organizers, who did not plan the protest around a single issue, decried the “American empire,” capitalism and colonialism and directed their ire toward Derek Miller, chairman of the Inland Port Authority, and the police.
“We hear about Madre Tierra bleeding and dying, it’s dying because of this fucking moment. It’s dying because of capitalism, it’s dying because of settler-colonalism,” Mariella Mendoza, an undocumented immigrant and activist, said at the begining of the demonstration. “This is intentional warfare waged against this Earth,” they continued. “This is intentional warfare being waged against our communities.”
Mendoza, who helped lead the protest across the street, declined a request for comment.
After storming the building’s lobby, some protesters took the elevator to the building’s sixth floor where they demanded to speak with Miller, who was not available. Some individuals sat down, linking their arms together and refused to leave.
When police arrived, they asked everyone on the sixth floor, including members of the media, to leave or face arrest. Ethan Petersen, who was arrested at the last month’s Inland Port Authority board meeting, was seen being detained by police once more.
At one point, protesters formed a barrier around the entrance to the elevator lobby, actively preventing two individuals wearing yellow “Downtown Ambassador” shirts from accessing the elevators. The Downtown Street Ambassador Program is an initiative by Salt Lake City’s Downtown Alliance, wherein ambassadors are entrusted with providing an “additional level of safety and security” throughout the city.
After completely closing down 400 South and 200 East, a second group of around 20 police officers entered the lobby where they faced resistance from protesters and a melee broke out. Officers began physically pushing people out of the lobby, knocking down some protesters and news reporters along the way. It’s unclear how many people were injured in the scuffle.
Miller released a statement condemning the protest as an “act of intimidation by people attempting to terrorize members of the Salt Lake Chamber,” and argued that the Inland Port Authority has a “robust engagement process” with concerned community members.
“It is important to make it clear that there is no connection between the Salt Lake Chamber and the inland port project,” Miller wrote in the statement. However, he oversees both operations as the CEO of the chamber and the chair of the Inland Port Board, sparking concerns over a possible conflict of interest.
Civil Riot, one of the groups behind the protest, released a statement condemning the use of force by the police and claimed that they had punched “some people in the face.”
“Nonviolent direct action can shine a light on the grave injustice being done by the powerful elite with this destructive development, through the harm it will cause to the surrounding communities, wildlife habitats, and the planet,” Adair Kovac, one of the protesters and a member of the group, said. “The violent response from the police yet again proves that law enforcement serves and protects the wealthy and their property and interests, not the majority of people.”