In two hastily-called press conferences Wednesday, Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, speaking separately, said the kind of “violence” seen Tuesday at a downtown riot over the state’s inland port is inappropriate and must stop.
Herbert and Biskupski said they originally were going to have a joint press conference, but the mayor pulled out at the last minute, telling reporters after the governor’s presser that Herbert attempted a “bait and switch” on the joint presser, so she declined to attend.
In any case, both government executives speaking separately to reporters said the Tuesday takeover of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce Building by inland port protesters was no excuse for violence and breaking the law, and that offenders would be prosecuted.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said city police will ask local TV stations with cameras at the protest for videotape to identify violent protesters and hold them responsible. Local reporters at the protests will be interviewed, also, he added.
Herbert called the violent protesters “anarchists, a mob” and “nothing short of terrorists.”
Biskupski did not use such language but did condemn “any violence” as unacceptable, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. upholding non-violent protests as the way to object to government action.
Eight people were detained, a few booked into jail, after a City/County Building peaceful protest by opponents to the inland port moved across 4th South and into the Chamber building, where several members of the media were roughed up trying to cover the volatile protests and several police officers were also attacked, said Herbert, state Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson and Brown. (Brown was speaking at the Biskupski presser, he didn’t attend the Herbert event.)
Local media reported that one of the arrestees was George Zinn, who is well-known in Republican political circles as someone who attends various GOP events and has run for office before, always losing.
Both Herbert and Brown said Tuesday’s violent protests were the worst they’ve seen in their Utah years, saying further such actions would not be tolerated.
Herbert said state police/UHP will be present at any future inland port board meetings on state property (the inland port often meets at the Capitol), adding that protesters who break the law will be escorted from the public hearings and arrested if they disobey law enforcement orders.
“I suppose this is the norm, although it shouldn’t be,” said the governor.
Herbert and inland port chairman, Derek Miller, who is also president of the Chamber (that is apparently why the protesters took over the Chamber offices) said not only were people harmed in the “mob rule” protest Tuesday, but some protesters went into Chamber employees 6th floor private offices and “urinated” on the floors.
Tuesday’s protests were a continuation of actions by “Civil Riot” and other groups against the inland port – a legislative-created body that aims to develop several hundred of acres of vacant land in the city’s northwest area. The port will attract large numbers to semi-trucks and trains, with protesters and various city officials, like Biskupski, objecting over environmental, especially air quality, issues.
But now the inland port has become a campaign issue for the people running to replace Biskupski this year – she is not running again.
Most mayoral candidates have come out against the port, with one, David Garbett, saying he would support the port protesters, even if he does not approve of some of their “civil riot” methods.
Herbert said mayoral candidates who aren’t condemning the Tuesday violence, saying they stand with those protesters, are making a big mistake. Such actions “is a poor statement for anyone running for mayor,” said Herbert.
Asked about the now-mayoral issues of the inland port protests, Biskupski said she doesn’t know what various candidates are saying.
But Tuesday’s violence, while condemned, is “likely evolved because the public” is not being listened to in inland port board meetings, something Miller and Herbert vehemently deny.
Herbert’s Wednesday’s press conference was for credentialed media only, called with just 30 minutes notice, with uniform Utah Highway Patrol troopers at the Gold Room doors to make sure no protesters could come inside the ornate Capitol room.
It is rare that Utah sees the confrontational kind of protests seen over the inland port.
At least one inland port public meeting had to be stopped earlier this year when protesters packed the room and chanted loudly, stopping the board from conducting its meeting.
Tuesday’s protest was not at a board meeting, but a rally at the City/County Building that was peaceful. It was only after when a number of protestors moved over to the Chamber building and tried to occupy the Chamber’s sixth-floor offices. Chamber President Miller, not present Tuesday in his office, is the inland port chair. The Chamber itself has nothing to do with the port, Miller said in condemning the protester’ actions, which he said endangered some of his Chamber staff.
Brown said the Chamber protest was not spontaneous, that several local TV stations were tipped off by protesters ahead of time so they would cover the peaceful protest at the City/County Building and follow protesters into the Chamber building.
Salt Lake City police finally broke up the protest at the Chamber, detaining a few folks and arresting a handful who refused to leave and got in a pushing match with police. Police threatened to arrest anyone who refused to leave the Chamber building, including members of the press.
Herbert had several appointments/state workers to the inland board, including Carlos Braceras, head of the Utah Department of Transportation.
House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, is also on the board.
Creation of the inland port has been a political football from when the GOP-controlled Legislature created it 18 months ago. Biskupski got into a fight with Capitol Hill Republicans and refused to even talk to lawmakers about the bill.
The City Council decided to step in and did negotiate with Herbert/GOP lawmakers to secure changes to the bill after the initial passage, angering Biskupski even more.
Later, the City Council passed an ordinance saying Biskupski couldn’t sue over the port, which she did anyway. The court case is pending.
In the 2019 Legislature, the port law was amended, allowing other Utah cities to become “satellites” to the main port and so get benefits from it. You can read about the port here.
Any number of other states have such “ports,” either on the coasts or inland. The government agencies allow foreign products to be shipped into the secure ports duty-free. Also, U.S. businesses can ship products into the ports, where they can then sold/transported overseas.