Climbing tensions and growing conversations surrounding police brutality throughout the week made it to Las Vegas Friday when protesters marched along the Strip, calling for justice for a man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police and hoping for sincerity in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s response to the issue.
The main group started at the Miracle Mile Shops at 2 p.m. and continued walking north on the Strip, but with various smaller groups trailing behind, the protest stretched along the boulevard. Between 30-40 protesters were arrested as of Friday night and two officers were injured but are expected to recover.
Signs with sayings such as “I can’t breathe” and “Silence is betrayal” and chants referenced George Floyd’s death and themes of police brutality and injustices against the black community.
National attention to police brutality against black civilians was resurrected this week when Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police Monday after an officer restrained him by putting his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost eight minutes. The ex-officer has been charged and arrested for murder.
Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo tweeted Thursday afternoon that he found Floyd’s death “disturbing.”
“The officers' actions and inaction are inconsistent with the training and protocols of our profession and the LVMPD,” the tweet said. “I can assure you the LVMPD will strive each day to continue to build your trust.”
But he took a firmer tone as the protests carried on into the evening. Footage showed protesters verbally confronting police who had formed a line to block their advance, and demonstrators being physically detained by officers.
“The LVMPD stands with our community and censures any police brutality,” Lombardo tweeted late Friday night. “As we continue to facilitate spontaneous and planned protests, violence or property damage will not be tolerated.”
Many protesters who spoke with The Nevada Independent said they hoped the sentiment in Lombardo’s tweet was authentic.
“I really hope it’s a true statement,” said Jaylon Green, 22. “Because prior to this, I don’t feel like anything’s been done for it to change.”
Protesters who are not black said they wanted to show support for the black community.
“It’s the responsibility of the white community and non-black people of color to take a stand and give voice to the movement,” said Alicia Sun, 22. “Being silent is taking a stance in itself. Everyone has a responsibility to take action and get involved.”
Sun and her brother Aron, 19, grew up in Vegas and have been upset by the recent events and wanted to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Most of the crowd ranged from teens to people middle age, many shouting from underneath masks. Some parents brought their teenage children. One girl told some fellow teenagers accompanied by their parents that her mom didn’t know she was at the protest — she told her she was going to a friend’s house instead.
In the 106-degree Vegas heat, pods of protesters took breaks in the shade and found refuge in the air-conditioned Starbucks. Many waited to catch the larger group when they eventually turned around and walked back.
In between chants, a woman leading one group of about 100 people with a megaphone encouraged people to drink water and use hand sanitizer. People called out asking if anyone had any water to lend. Several people handed out bottles of water to protesters up and down the Strip.
Car horns honked in solidarity with the protestors. Some avoided the heat and stuck their signs out their windows as they drove up and down the street and cheered with protesters.
Protesters cried out against general police brutality, but many agreed that they would like to see Metro work at creating a better relationship with the community.
A lifelong resident, Green said he thought Metro was “aggressive” when responding to even minor issues in urban areas.
Green, who is black, said he was leaving his grandfather’s house last August and crossing the street to his car when the police pulled up with their lights. He said they got out with their weapons drawn and asked Green to stand still. They gave him a ticket for jaywalking, which he ended up paying.
Maurice Cooper, 32, said he never personally experienced police brutality in Las Vegas but knew people who had. As a teacher, he worries about his black and brown students.
“Those students grow up to become young men and young women,” he said, “and having to live in a society where they turn on the TV and people who look like them are being shot everywhere.”
Teacher Ashley Farmer, 35, said she would like to see all police officers better trained, particularly on cultural issues, and rebuilding trust with the community that she said was “shattered” right now. She thought it was unjust that as a white person, she doesn’t have to worry about interactions with the police, but her friend Cooper, who is black, “has to worry about his life.”
Metro has worked with the Department of Justice starting in 2012 to change its policies and reduce police shootings and the use of force. Some of the changes include “de-escalation” trainings, which teach trainees options other than force to address a situation, and “reality-based trainings,” which gives officers practice in high-tension scenarios without real-life consequences. However critics question if the decrease in police shootings comes from these specific policy changes and worry about lingering issues of transparency with Metro.
Many of the participants planned on coming to the protest after seeing the event posted on social media, but Green and his friend Stephanie Gates, 20, hadn’t meant to join the protest — they stumbled onto it while walking the Strip and decided to join in. They followed it the 2 1/2 miles from the Bellagio Fountains to the Sahara.
“It’s a big thing that’s going on right now, and I think the racial inequality we do face in America is a bit outrageous,” Green said. “So if it’s a point where we can join in for a cause, I’m more than welcome to.”