On July 9, the Salt Lake City District Attorney Sim Gill determined that the two officers that shot Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal in the back while he was running away had violated no laws and would face no charges.
Protesters, who have gathered daily at the DA’s office for weeks, immediately responded, marching across the city in righteous anger. Right-wing Utah governor Gary Herbert, known most recently for being one of several governors who quickly reopened their states after COVID-19 lockdowns, resulting in skyrocketing cases, quickly declared a state of emergency. Downtown, militarized police assaulted protesters with clubs and riot shields, causing serious injuries. Activists reported police targeting organizers after the protests, as well as inflicting severe wounds.
Herbert and the police pointed to red paint thrown on the DA’s office and a few broken windows, as well as reports of plastic bottles being thrown at officers, to justify the state of emergency and brutal response by the SLC police department.
The protesters aren’t the criminals, the cops are!
Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal was killed by the SLC Police Department nearly two months ago, in the early morning hours of May 23. He was shot in the back while attempting to run from the police, who had been chasing him on foot for several blocks. Multiple cops fired a total of 34 rounds, which would total nearly three clips unloaded by the officers. The police attempted to construct a story as to why they shot to kill at a 22-year-old who was running away, but their justifications were not good enough for activists or Palacios-Carbajal’s family. They say it is murder.
In the wake of the shooting, the police slow-walked their investigation. The review of the killing was conducted, unsurprisingly, by another police department in Salt Lake County. Sim Gill was also slow in making his decision after receiving the report detailing the findings. He made tone-deaf claims of solidarity with protesters by stating the process was expedited “to be sensitive to the pain and grief and what our community is going through right now.”
This claim is hard to believe, considering the amount of time Gill spent deflecting questions about the investigation or when it would be completed, not to mention that the outcome of this process will let the killers walk free. Activists speculate that Gill attempted to wait for public outcry to lessen, but daily protests at the DAs office showed Gill’s hope was in vain.
Justice for Bernardo!
The struggle to obtain justice for Palacios-Carbajal and his family has continued since his killing at the hands of the SLC police department. Protesters have gathered on a daily basis for weeks outside of Sim Gill’s office to demand murder charges be brought against the officers, while also closing down Salt Lake City streets to demand justice. The officers involved in the shooting, Neil Iversen and Kevin Fortuna, were only identified when Gill announced his decision at a press conference. Gill announced that they would stay on the force, and it is possible that they are still on SLC streets.
Protesters say, killer cops of our streets!
Sadly, this is a fight that the people of Salt Lake City are no stranger to. In 2018 alone, Utah police killed 18 people, accounting for nearly a quarter of all homicides in the state. Recently, artists in the city have begun to paint murals of other victims of Utah police violence, as well as victims such as George Floyd. These include Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, Cody Belgard, Allen Nelson, Darrien Hunt, and Dillon Taylor. Many more could be painted.
At his July 9 press conference, Gill gave a manipulated and disingenuous interpretation of the killing. The body camera footage shows officers firing over 30 rounds at Palacios-Carbajal as he fled, but there is no video evidence that he in any way threatened anyone at the scene. Only stories from the killer cops offer any of the “reasoning” behind the shooting.
In response to the decision, the family held a press conference to voice their anger at the lack of accountability for his killing. Bernardo’s mother, Lucy Carbajal, spoke as she wept, saying, “It’s not a correct decision that [District Attorney Sim Gill] made, and we will continue fighting. And even though my son isn’t here, he gives us the right to continue fighting so mothers like me do not lose their sons, like they killed my son. That was cowardice.”
As expected, state and local leaders have reacted with more outrage at broken windows and red paint than they have for yet another police killing. Utah Governor Gary Herbert decried the so-called “violence” of the protesters. His state of emergency will last through July 12.
While officials in Salt Lake City may mistakenly think that the fight is over for now, the fight for justice for Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal and all other victims of racist police killings will continue. All progressive and revolutionary people should continue to participate in the struggle, and make known its political nature. The ruling class is paying attention, and those fighting them will make sure they can’t look away.