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Salt Lake City rally alleges police brutality against inland port protestors

SALT LAKE CITY — About 50 demonstrators gathered outside the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building on Tuesday evening to rally against what they described as violent behavior from officers at a protest earlier this month.

Organizers of the rally had a list of several demands, including that all charges be dropped against "peaceful protesters" who were arrested at a July 9 protest at the Chamber of Commerce Building against the Utah Inland Port. Leaders of Tuesday's protest also said they wanted to see charges brought against officers who "brutally attacked" protesters at the July 9 demonstration.

"It was our right to be in a public space, speaking our piece, telling the truth," said Deb Blake, an organizer for Utah Against Police Brutality. "I feel it was a set-up and that people were intentionally targeted for their disabilities and for being people of color, for being marginalized folks and indigenous folks who were also present. And it's not right."

The July 9 protest escalated to violence after some of the 100 protesters who entered the Chamber of Commerce Building refused to follow police orders to leave. Protester videos circulated on social media showed officers punching, shoving and dragging protesters. The Deseret News reported at the time that both officers and protesters were seen throwing punches.

Several of the speakers at Tuesday's rally, including organizers of groups such as Civil Riot and the Disability Rights Action Committee, said they had been targets of police violence themselves at the protest.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown has defended his officers' response, saying they "handled the situation in an exemplary way."

Brown said several days after the protest that six officers were assaulted. He said officers were "spit on, scratched, kicked and had bottles and different items thrown at them."

Eight people were arrested at the protest for investigation of charges ranging from assault on a police officer to trespassing, riot, and resisting arrest. Last week, police asked for the public's help identifying a man who allegedly attacked a television news photographer during the protest.

Gov. Gary Herbert has denounced the actions of some aggressive protesters as "borderline terrorism." Blake on Tuesday described Herbert's characterization as a "callous statement," saying his remarks had "demonized" and "put a target" on the heads of the protest's organizers.

Utah Against Police Brutality organizer Dave Newlin characterized the officers' actions as "an act of specifically political repression."

"This isn't just some random act of police violence," Newlin said. "It was specifically targeted against people who wanted to change their city for the better."

Newlin described the inland port as "an act of violence against all of Salt Lake City, especially the marginalized communities that live here and have to raise their kids here."

The rally also featured remarks condemning police brutality from Moroni Benally, who is running to represent District 2 on the Salt Lake City Council.

"We will not be scared or intimidated into our silence again," Benally said. "It's time for us to stand up and fight back."

In response to allegations of police violence, Brown said on July 11 that he had opened an internal affairs investigation of officers' use of force and that incidents would be reviewed by the Citizen Review Board.