SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Some Black Lives Matter protesters in Salt Lake City could face up to life in prison if they’re convicted of splashing red paint and smashing windows during a protest, a potential punishment that stands out among demonstrators arrested around the country and one that critics say doesn’t fit the alleged crime.
The felony criminal mischief charges are more serious because they carry a gang enhancement. Prosecutors said Wednesday that’s justified because the protesters worked together to cause thousands of dollars in damage, but watchdogs called the use of the 1990s-era law troubling, especially in the context of criminal justice reform and minority communities.
“This is so far beyond just the enforcement of the law, it feels retaliatory,” said Madalena McNeil, who is facing a potential life sentence over felony criminal mischief and riot charges. Charging documents say she bought red paint at a Home Depot before the July 9 demonstration sparked by a fatal police shooting ruling. She later yelled at and shifted her weight as if to slam into police during the demonstration, charges state. “It’s really frustrating and scary … I just feel so much concern for what this means for the right to protest in general.”