Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2020

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Why can’t my life matter?’ NLV march puts focus on police reform

March For Police Accountability and Reform

Steve Marcus

Desiree Smith, center, founder of “More Than A Hashtag,” and other protesters line up for a “March on Washington” solidarity march for police accountability and reform in North Las Vegas Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. The rally was held on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

March For Police Accountability and Reform

Protesters temporarily block Carey Avenue at Martin Luther King Boulevard during a Launch slideshow »

Desiree Smith has scrolled through social media over the last few weeks to see plenty of posts advocating for Black Lives Matter in the aftermath of another Black man being brutalized by white police.

But advocating for social justice for Blacks is more than a flashy hashtag in times of conflict for the 19-year-old Las Vegas activist.

Smith delivered that message Friday to a group of about 100 demonstrators at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Carey Avenue in North Las Vegas.

“Why should our lives only matter then?” asked Smith, as the group gathered in front of a Martin Luther King statue.

“Why can’t my life matter when I’m going to the store and getting Skittles walking home?” continued Smith, referencing the death of teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 at the hands of a neighborhood watchman in Florida.

In becoming more animated she said, “Why can’t my life matter when I’m playing with a toy gun,” she said, alluding to the 2012 police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Ohio. 

She concluded, “Why can’t my life matter when I’m minding my own business at my house and being woken up with a gun shooting in my home,” she said about the killing of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky earlier this year by Louisville police. 

The three-hour demonstration turned tense for about two minutes when the marchers blocked traffic at an intersection in an act of civil disobedience. They faced off with Metro Police, who immediately called for backup. 

The protest was the latest in a series of local demonstrations in response to the police killing of George Floyd, who died in May underneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. It also comes at a time when the nation seems torn on how to combat racism or, for some, to even agree if the issue is systemic. 

The event coincided with the Martin Luther King Jr.-led Civil Rights-era March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 57 years ago.

In Las Vegas, protesters have rallied against Metro Police, who killed armed protester Jorge Gomez in early June. The shooting occurred at the end of a police brutality protest in downtown Las Vegas, the same night Metro Officer Shay Mikalonis was left paralyzed when he was shot in the head as he tried to break up protesters on the Strip. 

Attendees Friday night heard speeches by activists like Smith and Stretch Sanders, who led them in the march. They chanted “No justice, no peace” and “these racist cops have got to go.” 

A pair of Metro squad cars accompanied the march, with officers interjecting when protesters stepped into the street. 

As the walk was ending, Sanders instructed demonstrators to block the crosswalk. More Metro and North Las Vegas police officers quickly descended at the scene. The march moved out of the way a few seconds later.

Sanders noted afterward that protesters should research the issues, because change starts from within. He told them that facing off with police is counterproductive and that instigators should be ignored.

However, he warned that more acts of civil disobedience might be in store. He said they’re letting the valley know that “change is coming.” 

“Understand what you’re doing is powerful,” Sanders said.