Racism has no place in Utah political discourse

Better UTAH Beat Episode 60 – August 13, 2013

There is a well-known Old Testament passage that the more morally obsequious among us are fond of trotting out these days. According to the old prophet, the latter days are to be marked by a series of extreme moral confusions. People will “call evil good, and good evil,” they will “put darkness for light, and light for darkness,” and, perhaps worst of all, they will put “bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

It’s interesting, then, that Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill could be accused this weekend of being an unethical prosecutor, while Republican-insiders continue to defend the morally-suspect Attorney General John Swallow.

Ethical for corrupt, wise for foolish, empathetic for narcissistic. Indeed, there are many conservatives in this state who seem to have their superlatives all mixed up. But the attack on Gill is particularly disingenuous.

Gill is under increasing fire from Salt Lake County Republicans for his part in ruling that the West Valley cops who shot Danielle Willard were not justified in their use of violent force. If you’ll remember, Danielle Willard was killed last year by two plain-clothes police officers while she was suspected of being in the possession of illegal drugs.

The Danielle Willard case is part of the now infamous and apparently widespread corruption in the West Valley Police Department. It’s likely true that most of the officers in that department are good, law-abiding public servants, but a handful have made life difficult for the poor and dispossessed in West Valley City–not to mention the county prosecutors and defenders who have had to make sense of a pattern of unethical behavior stemming from mishandling evidence. That behavior led to dozens of cases being thrown out by Gill’s office. Many police officers are upset about the ordeal, but partisan hacks are taking it to a new extreme.

Lindsay Jarvis, the attorney who represented one of Willard’s killers, claimed in a Salt Lake Tribune article that Gill is not liked by police force and that “Nobody trusts him.” She continued, “Law enforcement is definitely not on his side.” Jarvis, however, points to absolutely no empirical data to back up her claim. But Jarvis’s claims don’t hold a candle to Salt Lake County Republican Party Chair Chad Bennion’s suggestion that Sim Gill is a cop-hater.

“It might simply be that Sim is a cop hater,” said the Republican chairman. Who then launched into a series of reasons for why Gill should be replaced by a Republican district attorney during the next election cycle in 2014.

But the charges of cop-hating might be part of a much more sinister campaign against Salt Lake County’s District Attorney. According to reporting by the Salt Lake Tribune, Bennion not only thinks that Salt Lake County’s top law enforcement officer hates cops, but that Gill’s ability to perform his job has been compromised by his upbringing in India. At Better UTAH we fail to see why Gill’s distinction as the first Indian-born district attorney in the United States has anything to do with his ability to fully and adequately defend the law.

In fact, the purpose of the District Attorney is to represent the interests of the people of Salt Lake County. Faced with a rogue police department in West Valley City that has repeatedly infringed on the rights of the people of Salt Lake County, what other choice does he have? But to suggest that Gill’s motive is somehow related to his country of origin represents a racism that should leave Utahns feeling extremely uncomfortable. To argue that racial background should be a qualifier for determining fitness for office is an embarrassment that we should all be ashamed of.

As the Republican Party itself is increasingly under attack for charges of racism related to restricting the right to vote, Salt Lake County Republicans should be extra vigilant about making sure their party remains free of race-based attacks. Calling on their Party Chairman to resign might be the first step.

This is Maryann Martindale with this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat.

Have a great week, and remember, together, we can make a better Utah.

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