“We won’t stop until you stop!”
That’s the rallying cry behind the League of Action, a new West Las Vegas group aiming to reduce what organizers say is “blatant abuse and police brutality” by local law enforcement.
“We’re talking heavy-handed tactics that we think is unlawful detainment,” said former Assemblyman Wendell Williams, the group’s spokesman.
“We’ve got a number of concerns, and have seen a tremendous increase in them lately. Folks of all ages are concerned about it and we want it addressed,” said Williams, who pointed out that he was recruited by residents and is not leading the effort.
Williams said one of the major grievances against the Metropolitan Police Department and North Las Vegas Police Department is that residents are being illegally detained for minor violations — where there’s not much probable cause. And the problem is occurring throughout the historically black community, he said.
West Las Vegas, a low-income area heavily patrolled by police, is generally bordered by Carey Avenue on the north, Bonanza Road on the south, Interstate 15 on the east and Rancho Drive on the west.
Police spokesmen for both agencies said they haven’t heard about such incidents of harassment, and if they are happening as alleged, they shouldn’t be. They also said concerned residents should contact police and report them.
The League of Action met for the first time Monday morning, next to the statue of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. near Martin King Boulevard and Carey Avenue. About 15 to 20 people attended.
One of the group’s concerned residents is Pastor Dorothy Hayes of the Mount Jameson Missionary Baptist Church. She said her grandson was stopped twice while trying to visit her Alexander Avenue home.
On the second visit, he parked his vehicle on the curb and was crossing the street — a residential street — when he was stopped for jaywalking, she said. Las Vegas police officers searched him and harassed him for several minutes, she said.
“They’re paid to protect us,” said Hayes. “The harassment has to stop. No more will we let them sweep this under the rug.”
Susan Crockett, 50, said she has also witnessed increased activity by both police departments. She was handcuffed by North Las Vegas police for riding her bicycle on the sidewalk on Martin Luther King north of Carey, even though there was construction on the curb that made it unsafe to ride there, she said.
“They treated me like a drug addict,” she said, noting she was handcuffed.
She said she has also witnessed neighbors stopped for jaywalking on residential streets, where there are no marked crosswalks.
“We can’t even cross the street in our own neighborhoods anymore without risking a ticket,” she said. “If you put your foot off the curb, they’ll get you for attempted jaywalking.”
To the best of their knowledge, no one has received a citation for jaywalking, people at the meeting said.
But racking up tickets was never the goal, said Hayes.
“It’s just an excuse to stop you, to see what you have,” she said. “That’s all they need.”
Officer Marcus Martin, a Las Vegas police spokesman, said the perception that officers only stop minorities is unfounded. As a black officer who has worked in West Las Vegas, he knows that to be untrue, he said.
If the detainment stories from residents are true, however, Martin said he would be concerned.
“I don’t think people are expected to go down to an intersection to cross (a street) in a residential neighborhood,” he said. “That would be concern for the sheriff, possibly cause for training. I know he would strongly disagree with that conduct, as we’re instructed to stop all people over the valley for the same reasons.”
Sgt. Tim Bedwell, a North Las Vegas police spokesman, said there’s been no mandate to target a certain community.
If residents feel their rights have been violated, they should contact their local police department with a specific incident, he said.
“(An incident) is easy for us to investigate,” Bedwell said. “Simply come in and file a complaint and we will figure out what happened. It might have been a misunderstanding, it might have been an officer violation. We don’t know.”
Maggie McLetchie, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said the jaywalking statute would not apply in a residential street.
It only applies between adjacent intersections with official traffic control, she said.
“If they’re making up crimes, manufacturing offenses and stopping people to harass them, that’s extremely problematic,” McLetchie said. “It would violate the 4th Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution).”
McLetchie said similar tactics against homeless people and possibly undocumented Hispanics have been used by police in Las Vegas in the past.
She said the ACLU advises people who are stopped by a police officer to comply with all commands, but be aware that if you consent to a search, that information can arguably be used against you in a court.
“You should object out loud, and repeatedly,” she said. “And afterward, you should document the incident and report it.”
Contact reporter Mike Blasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0283.