“I realized that in the eyes of the state, I had become an enemy for exercising what is supposed to be a protected right.” Madalena McNeil is accused of buying red paint before a protest. Under aggressive new criminal charges, it could mean she spends the rest of her life in prison. McNeil, 28, was among four people charged Tuesday for their alleged actions at a July Salt Lake City, Utah, protest over a district attorney’s decision that the fatal police shooting of a young man was justified. Protesters allegedly splashed red paint on the DA’s office, broke windows, and hung signs calling for justice for the slain man. But instead of merely charging the protesters with vandalism or even rioting, that same DA used a charging enhancement to claim they operated as a gang. Under the new charges, the demonstrators face up to life in prison. It’s the latest in a pattern of harsh measures that ratchet up potential penalties by treating protesters like a criminal conspiracy. “I’m not scared because I think that I did anything wrong, because I know that I didn’t,” McNeil told The Daily Beast. “But it would be very foolish of me to look at the potential for life in prison and not be scared. When I heard about that [the charges] I realized that in the eyes of the state, I had become an enemy for exercising what is supposed to be a protected right.” McNeil and a crowd that she estimated to contain 40 to 50 people gathered outside the DA’s office on July 9 to protest the lack of charges against a pair of officers who shot and killed 22-year-old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal. Palacios-Carbajal was accused of making threats with a gun in May. He fled when officers arrived on the scene, and officers gave chase. He stumbled to the ground three times, the third time appearing to point his gun at officers, who shot him 34 times.