Some protesters went to the Fremont Street Experience on Monday evening willing to be arrested for their cause.
In an act of civil disobedience on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, activists blocked a street in downtown Las Vegas in protest of two controversial city policies that ban camping downtown when there are beds available and during street cleaning hours. Twelve of them were arrested.
On Casino Center Boulevard, Metropolitan Police Department officers forced Kelly Patterson onto his stomach as he sat on a cardboard box. Four city marshals carried Joey Lankowski off from his sleeping bag. Robert Majors was lifted by his arms and peacefully walked off.
“If I don’t stay here, I’m going home to a warm bed that’s legal for me to sleep in while other people are struggling to find a safe place to sleep,” he said before he was taken into custody.
According to Metro Lt. Jeff Stuart, 12 people were arrested after police said they refused to leave the road. Their status and what charges they might face were unavailable late Monday.
About 100 protesters first gathered at 4 p.m. at Las Vegas City Hall, 495 S. Main St., with tents and sleeping bags and then marched to Fremont Street.
“Martin Luther King said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Lankowski, one of the organizers. He carried a green tent spray-painted with “No war on the poor.”
As the protest carried on, the activists repeated chants of “housing not handcuffs,” “fight, fight, housing is a right” and “who’s streets? our streets.”
Three members of the New Black Panther Party shouted through megaphones.
— Briana Erickson (@ByBrianaE) January 21, 2020
“In or out of uniform, I’m a Black Panther. I’m going to represent,” Jay Jackson said. “And you know what MLK stood for. This is one of the best days to have this.”
At one point, dozens of officers, including some on horseback, faced the protesters outside Binion’s and offered several warnings to leave after giving them an hour to protest.
“Let’s march like there is no tomorrow,” the Rev. Harold Washington-Carnes shouted through a megaphone. “Let us march and bring back freedom like Dr. King did.”
During the demonstration, a few homeless milling about joined in. One carried a 30-pack of beer into the streets. Meanwhile, people continued zip lining on the SlotZilla overhead.
“This is for people who have already made their minds up to do this,” Lankowski said. “I’m asking anybody who is not willing to get arrested, please stand on the sidewalk. We came, we saw, we conquered, we shut down Fremont Street.”
Afterward, at least three of the officers’ horses defecated on the street, to which one protester shouted, “I thought the city wanted to keep these streets clean. Arrest your horse.”
‘They’re going to have to listen’
Advocacy groups have protested since November, providing hourslong public comment during the City Council meeting Nov. 6.
During that meeting, council members made it a misdemeanor to camp or sleep in the public right of way, such as a sidewalk, when there are beds or spaces free at the city’s Courtyard Homeless Resource Center or other nonprofit service providers within the so-called Corridor of Hope just north of downtown.
Last week, the City Council made it a misdemeanor to camp, sleep, lie, sit or otherwise obstruct city efforts to sanitize the sidewalks.
Misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman sponsored both bills, casting them as necessary to encourage people to seek resources and to ensure a sanitary community. She has urged the advocates to get involved with city efforts to help the homeless.
Katie Krikorian, who spoke against the policies at recent meetings, was critical of the council.
“The City Council is not hearing from anyone with knowledge about the homeless,” she said. “We had hours of public comment, and they read prepared statements that they wrote the day before. They’re going to have to listen to us eventually.”
In her hand, she held a white sign with black lettering that read: “Are you listening yet, Mayor Goodman?”