ASU Black Lives Still Don’t Matter Venetian Protest Wrap-Up

Yesterday, May 28, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Las Vegas showed up in support of All Shades United‘s Black Lives Still Don’t Matter protest in front of the Venetian. There are a number of accounts, photographs, videos, posts, news articles, etc. about this event. Because of the plethora of eyewitness accounts to the various incidents that transpired, I won’t be going too much into all that. I wanted to do this post as a wrap-up of why we were there, what the sequence of events were, and what the aftermath is. I will offer a few of my personal thoughts and observations.

On Mother’s Day, 2017, Tashi Brown, an unarmed Black man, approached LV Metro police officers outside of the Venetian on the strip asking for assistance. As events unfolded, LVMPD police officer Kenneth Lopera misread the situation and incorrectly assumed that Brown was attempting to carjack someone. Lopera deployed the stun gun on Mr. Brown seven times, and then used an unauthorized choke hold on him, which killed him. Subsequently, Undersheriff Kevin McMahill gave a press conference where he admitted that Brown would not have been charged with anything had he survived; admitted that Lopera used an unauthorized chokehold; admitted that even if Lopera had used an authorized chokehold, he should not have used it for over a minute (ten seconds is standard); and then proceeded to spend the remainder of the press conference slandering the character of Mr. Brown. You can read news stories here, here, here, and here or you can google it.

Yesterday’s protest at the Venetian was a response to the murder of Tashi Brown.

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A number of SURJ members attended the protest. The above photo shows about half of us. For some of them, it was the first time coming out with SURJ. For others, it was their first time coming out at all. As we expect these types of actions to increase in the coming months, we will be offering a Protest 101 workshop in July. More information about that will be coming soon.

When we arrived, Jay Jackson from the New Black Panthers was already there speaking to the assembled crowd. Min. Stretch Sanders and the All Shades United crew showed up shortly thereafter. There were a number of supporting organizations present, as well as some members of the Las Vegas Street Medics with water spritzers, sunscreen, and first aid kits.

And real quick, I want to shout out to the street medics. They helped a lot of people with sunscreen, water spritzers, and first aid, and a number of them were detained and/or arrested/cited by Metro for no reason. Nevada Cop Block posted a video on their website here of one of the medics detained. He was standing on the fountain looking over the crowd, and out of nowhere a couple of cops pulled him down and put him in handcuffs for no reason that I, or anyone else, could ascertain. Watch it here: https://www.facebook.com/NVCopBlock.org/videos/1470787702964241/.

After the folks from All Shades United gathered, there were a number of speakers from ASU and other organizations, as well as an author visiting from Oakland. After the speakers, Min. Stretch stated that anyone who felt moved to do so could follow them out on LV Blvd to engage in an act of civil disobedience by blocking traffic.

To clarify my feelings on this, for anyone who might be thinking about joining us on a future action, I believe that each individual should weigh their own conscience and situation before making the decision to involve themselves in this type of action. But I do believe, personally, that civil disobedience is both a valid and effective tactic to agitate for change. And I also believe that it is important for white people to be involved in this kind of action because our lives have more value in this system of white supremacy and we are therefore less likely to be targeted or killed by police as a result of our civil disobedience.

Many of the gathered crowd followed Min. Stretch and the protest organizers into the crosswalk, where they blocked traffic for about two minutes. At this point, there were a couple of Metro officers on the east side of the street near the Venetian watching us. While the protestors were in the street, I witnessed them allow a couple of cars through when the drivers asked to pass. I also noticed a number of drivers taking pictures, waving, and yelling their support. Some of the other drivers were angry – yelling and honking.

After about a minute and a half, I noticed a man in a “Make America Great Again” hat on the East island shouting at a couple of parents who had older children with them in the crosswalk, but close to the island. He was screaming “This is fucking child abuse,” and he screamed it several times. Shortly after that, the man ran into the street and started pushing protesters in what looked like an attempt to force them to allow cars to pass. Then I saw him push one woman to the ground, and I didn’t see much else because they were quickly surrounded by a crowd. I did see a number of protestors pulling him off the woman, and then heard Min. Stretch trying to de-escalate the situation by talking the MAGA guy down.  Marquis Ealy, a student reporter with UNLV, took live video of the incident and the aftermath that can be viewed here:

After the fight, a number of Metro officers came in and cleared the street and detained the majority of the ASU leadership, as well as the man who had started pushing the protestors. I didn’t know it at the time, but video and eyewitness accounts confirm that the man had a knife. These images below are from the Las Vegas Review Journal.

It’s interesting to note, and also unsurprising, that the ASU leaders were detained, booked, charged with jaywalking, and released about seven hours later. The two individuals who pulled the knife-wielding man in the MAGA hat off of the girl he assaulted were charged with a number of violations, including battery, and are still (at this posting) sitting in jail pending $4000 bail. To our knowledge, the MAGA man was detained, but not arrested. He reportedly shows up in the police reports as “unnamed man,” he was not in any of the cars or the van that left the scene with the accused, and he was seen by eyewitnesses later on the strip. If this is the case, it means a knife-weilding assailant was less of a concern to Metro than a handful of peaceful protestors and two heroes who saved a woman from a knife-wielding asailant. This is more than a little scary and would speak volumes about the agenda of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department.

After the initial arrests were made, a number of the group congregated on the East island, where Jay Jackson was speaking in the megaphone telling the protestors to stay on the sidewalk and not cross until the light was green so that the protest could continue without further arrests. An officer came up to him on the island and was engaging him in conversation. While Mr. Jackson was talking to the officer, several more officers came behind him and arrested him. The officer he was talking to didn’t seem to know why he was being arrested. You can see this about ten minutes into Marquis Ealy’s video.

After that, the crowd gathered back around the Venetian statue and that’s where things got really strange.

For one thing, a number of police officers arrived, as well as private security from the Venetian. One of our SURJ members actually attempted to take video as one of the protestors was escorted through the casino, but security made her leave and told her she couldn’t record inside the property. I called her as she was leaving the property, and could hear the guard harassing her for talking on the phone as she was moving towards the exit. He tried to tell her she couldn’t be on her phone.

A huge number of Metro police showed up. They easily outnumbered the remaining protestors three-to-one. There were probably ten police cars parked on LV Blvd. in front of the Venetian, as well as a number of police cars near the taxi stand on the Venetian property. There were officers on foot posted on all of the corners. And there were four mounted officers followed by about sixteen officers on foot posted right near the fountain.

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During this period, about 30-60 minutes after the initial protest, I saw officers randomly handcuffing & detaining people in the crowd for what seemed like no reason at all. The street medic I mentioned earlier was one of those people. It felt like they were detaining and harassing people as a way to clear the area. We had every right to be there, at the fountain, as long as we weren’t blocking the sidewalk or traffic or harassing anyone. But detaining people one by one certainly made the protestors more likely to disperse on their own.

I did recognize Capt. Sasha Larkin of the LV Metro police, who was giving interviews to reporters after the protest. I recognized her from the rally we supported that Revolutionary Acts of Kindness hosted at a mosque earlier in the year, where she was allowed by the organizers to speak to the crowd. At the time, I felt that some of the things Larkin said at the rally were a little problematic. For instance, she told the crowd about all the things that Metro did for communities of color. But then she urged the crowd to report anything that they see that’s suspicious no matter how small or insignificant. Which I thought was not cool to say to a group of people that are often targeted and profiled by even “well-meaning” white people because of their skin color and religion.

Anyway, when I came home I watched a video of what Larkin said to 8 News Now, which you can watch here. It was reported that 8 community leaders were out there along with Metro and Larkin says that they were attempting to make connection with protesters and extend an olive branch. This is patently false. I don’t know if they had any community leaders out there or not because I didn’t have any interaction with any Metro officer or leader after the protest except one officer saw me picking trash out of the fountain (some water bottles had fallen in) and told me not to drink fountain water and gave me a water bottle. I didn’t witness officers reaching out to anybody in the crowd. Not to a single solitary person. Mostly they just stood around and talked to one another and glared. Larkin also stated that Metro was there for the protection of the protestors, which I found laughable because a couple of minutes after she finished speaking, officers detained another protestor who wasn’t doing anything. They also didn’t protect us when they detained or arrested the majority of the street medics. And they didn’t protect us when they let the guy with the knife go while charging the two protestors with battery for helping to get him off the woman he had in a chokehold.

There is a press conference and vigil scheduled for tonight at the statue on MLK and Carey at 7 p.m. I hope you can make it. We need to send the message that what is happening is not OK. That what they did to Tashi Brown is terrorism and that we are not interested in their lies about what happened yesterday. Will you join us?

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Tina Anderson/Membership Lead/SURJLV

Lean On Me Project

In April, we began collecting donations for the All Shades United Lean on Me Project, as well as raising funds for their work in the community.

This week, we were grateful to be able to join them as they went out to gift the donated items to people without homes on the corner of Owens and LV Blvd.

SURJ members and friends of members were able to donate 7 large blue Ikea bags and three 13-gallon bags of clothing, toiletries, food, backpacks, and blankets. In addition to our donations, several other people and organizations brought their own items, cases of water, and hamburgers to distribute. Additionally, our members donated several hundred dollars to the gofundme for the program. I’m not listing our contribution to brag, but to illustrate how desperately needed your donations were and to stress how important it is that we continue to support this effort.

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At the end of the day, there was only a bag and a half of items remaining. The blankets, backpacks, tampons, and razors seemed particularly well-received. Almost all of the items we brought were claimed. There is an ongoing need for this kind of service in community.

There are a couple of things I love about this project, and I wanted to take a minute to share them with you. I’ve been without a home myself, so I think I offer maybe a wider perspective here than some.

I love that this program does not use the word “homeless” to describe the people they are serving in the community. Homeless is a temporary situation, not a descriptor for a person. Min. Stretch uses the phrase “people without homes” to put the person before the situation. They are serving people, first and foremost and regardless of any temporary situation.

I love that the program focuses on being in community with others. As people, we serve one another. This isn’t something that they do because of saviorism, or to gain recognition, but something that they do because we are all one human community and that means that our destiny is all tied together.

I love that this program is not police-based. I see police officers harassing people every single day in the neighborhood I work in. I also see police harass people who want to provide direct assistance or service to people without homes. I don’t know that I would never trust any program that was run by police officers to help people once a month that they harass the other 29 days.

I also love that this program has no religious buy-in for offering assistance. There was a group there handing out religious tracts with cans of coke and bottles of water, and I hate the idea that people have to beholden to someone or something – even if it’s just an idea – to have access to food or water or other basic human needs.

Minister Stretch made a great video about his thoughts on this project. You can watch it here.

Lastly, I just wanted to say that we live in a city of vast amounts of wealth and luxury. There is no reason we should have a tent city a couple of blocks from casinos where people can win or lose a million dollars in a single roll of dice or spin of a wheel. There’s no reason this should happen anywhere, but most especially not here in Las Vegas. We can do better, friends. We have to do better.

If you’d like information on how you can help, please contact All Shades United through the messaging function on their Facebook page.

In community,
Tina Anderson
Co-Membership Lead, SURJ LV

Education of Mohammad Hussein Wrap-Up

Film & Discussion at uuCLV

On May 4, SURJ LV was invited to facilitate a discussion at the UU Congregation of Las Vegas as part of their five-month documentary and discussion series. This was the 2nd event in the series, and we watched the HBO Documentary, The Education of Mohammad Hussein.

About 30 people showed up to the film and discussion. A number of SURJ members came out, along with some new faces. I spoke about some of the things SURJ has done in the community and some of the groups that we have partnered with. The conversation after the film was facilitated by Dan Cryer, SURJ Action Lead and Ariel Sublett, SURJ Facebook Group Moderator. The discussion was lively and thought-provoking.

We let the gathered group know about our Triple C’s Fundraiser/Donation Drive that is taking place through May and invited them to come to our June event.

For more information about our June event, please visit our Upcoming Events page.

We are really excited about this partnership with UUCLV and feel very passionately about starting these conversations with other white people in our community. We look forward to seeing you next month.

Tina Anderson, Membership Co-Lead