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Black Lives Matter, anti-racism rally held in Las Vegas

Updated June 6, 2020 - 2:17 pm

Thousands of demonstrators protested peacefully in the Historic Westside neighborhood of Las Vegas on Friday night during a Black Lives Matter rally and candlelight vigil for George Floyd and other black Americans who have died in confrontations with police.

The vigil took on special significance for many because it was held in the historically black neighborhood.

Minister and activist Vance “Stretch” Sanders organized Friday night’s peaceful demonstration in protest of the recent deaths of Floyd and others. The deaths have resulted in protests in cities across the country and calls for police reform.

The death of Floyd, 46, during an arrest by Minneapolis police was captured on video, with Floyd pleading with an officer toremove a knee that pinned his neck and face to the ground, making it hard for him to breathe. Other officers stood nearby. All four officers involved have been charged in the case.

“If you believe that Black Lives Matter like you say they do, then we’re going to need you to act like it,” Sanders told the crowd gathered at Kianga Isoke Palacio Park near Doolittle Community Center in the Historic Westside neighborhood.

“Our demand is simple,” Sanders said. “Stop killing us.”

“It’s 2020 and (we) still have to say black lives matter?” he asked. “We’re tired, and sick and tired of what is going on.”

Sanders estimated that the protest drew as many as 4,000 people. Much earlier in the evening, the Metropolitan Police Department estimated the crowd at more than 1,000 people.

Some officers were seen directing traffic and shaking hands with organizers. But not many officers were seen in the crowd at the rally. As of about 6 p.m., no officers were seen in riot gear.

‘Do not take it for granted’

Those in the crowd held their fists in the air while the “Black National Anthem” echoed across a field.

“Ladies and gentleman you should be making all kinds of noise. You know why? ‘Cause you can breathe,” a speaker tells the crowd as a noise maker goes off.

“Do not take it for granted,” he said.

At one point, a speaker told the crowd to applaud the “sea of people” who had gathered.

“In West Las Vegas, a historic moment,” he said as people clapped.

Carmelo Whitfield is only 15, but he and his best friend came out to support his community. He held a sign reading, “My Skin Is Not A Weapon.”

“What’s going on in the world needs to be known,” Whitfield said.

Tia Coward, 23, held a sign reading “Don’t Just Love Black Culture Love Black Lives.” She said she came to protest to inspire others.

“I believe in being the example that I want to see,” she said.

Former District 6 Assemblyman Gene Collins addressed the crowd to roars of applause. He vowed that “change is coming” for Las Vegas, the Historic Westside and Nevada, meaning that officers would be held accountable for their actions.

“The time is now!” he shouted into a microphone, recalling a pastor behind the pulpit.

Las Vegas City Councilman Cedric Crear, who represents the Historic Westside, told the crowd to continue the energy of protests months from now.

“It’s long, it’s hard, we’re tired we’re beaten, but we are not gonna give up,” he said.

At one point, Sanders also led the crowd in a call and response chant.

“No peace,” he yelled into a megaphone.

The crowd responded: “No justice.”

A moment of silence was held for those lost, and the Rev. Willie Cherry, a West Las Vegas activist and founder of Willie R. Cherry Ministries, led a prayer for those lost.

Although the country is called the United States of America, Cherry said it’s more like “the divided states of America.”

“We come with heavy hearts today,” he said.

Gov. Steve Sisolak was recognized for his comments Friday that more needed to be done to address racism.

Rally leaders also said they want state legislation that would address excessive force by police against black people unfairly targeted by law enforcement.

Sanders called on the media to do its part, too.

“Document with integrity,” he said. “Get the story straight.”

‘This is our neighborhood’

A Metropolitan Police Department helicopter circled the park during the rally, which drew many participants from the historically black area.

The rally was also a celebration of black culture, with drumming and dance. The African rhythm brought to crowd to its feet.

“This is our neighborhood,” said Robert Strawder, 50, an activist heading the nonprofit group “Hip Hop Meets Politics” to help youth.

Strawder said the rally allows the black community to speak out about important issues.

“COVID-19 has hit us and racism is a pandemic,” he said earlier in the evening.

Among others at the rally was Congresswoman Susie Lee, D-Nev., who was holding flowers.

The event ended with a candlelight vigil to black lives lost.After the candles were lit, the crowd repeated the names of black people killed by police. They also shouted the name of Jorge Gomez, a man shot and killed by Las Vegas police during a protest.

Metro said Gomez pointed a gun at officers before he was shot. There is no body-camera footage of the shooting.

(Editor’s note: The livestream might contain inappropriate language.)

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-6370. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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