Do Mormons worship windows?

Life in prison for vandalism?

Some Black Lives Matter protesters in Salt Lake City could face up to life in prison if they are convicted of splashing red paint and smashing windows during a protest.

The felony criminal mischief charges are more serious because they carry a gang enhancement. Prosecutors said on Wednesday that was 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.

A gang enhancement for violent crimes might make sense; for vandalism it makes no kind of sense.

I looked for photos of the damage – it’s a big mess of red paint at the entrance to the building. It’s a big mess, for sure; it will cost money to clean it up, for sure; that in no way makes it worth life in prison.

The charges have Democratic leaders at odds in Salt Lake City, the liberal-leaning capital of conservative Utah, with the top county prosecutor arguing vandalism crossed a line and the mayor calling the charges too extreme.

I’d say life in prison is too extreme, yes.

The Utah demonstrators are unlikely to serve prison time, said the Salt Lake county district attorney, Sim Gill. Though they would get at least five years if convicted as charged, criminal cases often end with a plea to lesser counts.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be going to prison on this,” he said. Gill is a generally reform-minded Democrat who said he had participated in Black Lives Matter protests himself and declined to charge dozens of protesters accused of curfew violations.

Still, he argued “there’s some people who want to engage in protest, but they want to be absolved of any behavior,” he said. “This is not about protest, this is about people who are engaging in criminal conduct.”

But the criminal conduct is simply vandalism. It’s an expense and inconvenience for Salt Lake City government, but that’s all it is.

“We have to have some agreement of what constitutes protected first amendment speech,” Gill said. “When you cross that threshold, should you be held accountable or not?”

But it’s possible to hold the accused to account without threatening them with a life sentence. There’s a lot of ground between “nothing” and “life in prison.”

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