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Black Lives Matter protest chaotic, police use tear gas in downtown Las Vegas

Updated May 31, 2020 - 1:00 am

For a second consecutive day, what started as a peaceful demonstration in Las Vegas to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody turned confrontational and chaotic.

The protest started off peacefully at 7 p.m. Saturday with a few hundred demonstrators at the Downtown Container Park. Hours later, there were reports of vandalized cars, looting at a pawn shop, broken windows, graffiti scrawled in spray-paint on the El Cortez hotel-casino and objects including water bottles and Molotov cocktails being hurled at Las Vegas police officers.

Around 10 p.m. witnesses said tear gas was deployed by police on Fremont Street near Eighth Street. The witnesses declined to give their names, but the Review-Journal observed multiple people walking away from the area wiping their eyes and coughing.

“They (police) were approaching us then we heard a loud sound,” one woman said. “Then big smoke. It was burning.”

Another witness said, “We didn’t realize what it was at first. We thought it was fireworks.”

A line of parked Metropolitan Police Department patrol vehicles along Fremont Street were vandalized with expletives and slashed tires.

By 10:44 p.m., protesters had left the area around Fremont and Eighth, which was blocked off by police.

About an hour earlier after 9 p.m. a confrontation between protesters and police unfolded, causing a large stampede of people to run in the other direction, headed north on Fremont Street.

A second stampede of people happened minutes later, but it did not appear anyone was injured. By 9:30 p.m. the situation was tense.

Witness Jamayne Kyson said the stampedes were caused by a shoving match between police and protesters as the police line moved forward on Fremont.

Arrests and injuries

Metro Lt. Frank Humel said around 10:45 p.m. that the estimated crowd size grew to between 1,500 and 2,000.

“Officers have made arrests,” he said in a text message to the Review-Journal, but it’s unknown excactly how many protesters had been detained.

Humel also said he did not know if there were any injuries.

It did appear that at least one Metro officer might have suffered an injury to his leg or foot while the protest grew heated before tear gas was deployed.

“Protesters have vandalized cars, broken windows, and continue to throw objects including Molotov cocktails,” he said. “It was necessary to deploy CS gas.”

There was a report of looting at EZPAWN, Humel said, “however I cannot confirm that at this time.”

After midnight, a police vehicle was seen on fire on a downtown street.

In George Floyd’s memory

Protester Gina Lui said she was impressed with the turnout and the peaceful nature of the protest as of 8:40 p.m.

“I hope people learn that this is enough — that a lot of people have died and there has been no justice for those people. A lot of people don’t understand it because they never have to be in that position,

“We just want people to listen,” said Lui.

Another protester who identified herself only as Goldie laid down in the middle of Fremont Street, yelling, “I can’t breathe! “ and “Nobody helped me!”

“It hurt my heart when I saw George Floyd being hurt that way,” she said.

Elana Toliver, who was protesting with two other women on Seventh Street near the Container Park, said she has three sons, ages 29, 27 and 25, and wanted to show support.

Ptorey Crutchfield said she hopes to see awareness and doesn’t want to just see a cycle of hashtags on social media that will eventually go away until the next killing.

Dione Thompson said she has sons, ages 19 and 24, and is an educator.

“For me, it’s an issue of humanity,” she said.

Protesters marched from Container Park to Fremont Street Experience. They then headed south on Fourth Street, to Carson Avenue, headed east on Bridger and crossed Las Vegas Boulevard South, to Seventh Street and eventually returned to the park.

As the protest began, a handful of demonstrators showed up to the protest carrying weapons, saying they were armed simply to protect protesters if needed.

“We are here to peacefully protest,” said Joseph Bryant as he held an AR-15 while standing along Fremont Street. “We are here to make sure these people are heard. And we are here to make sure that the police officers who serve us, that they will be held accountable.”

One man was observed trying to egg on police at the intersection of Fremont and Eighth, with the man repeatedly yelling in officers’ faces. Police instructed him to get back on the street, where he then started screaming at a protester who told him to calm down. The man was not arrested.

At about 7:30 p.m., the crowd began walking along Fremont Street.

“Say his name!” a protester would say.

“George Floyd!” the crowd shouted in response.

As the crowd walked past El Cortez, a group of Metro officers stationed on the third floor of a parking garage watched from above.

Later in the night, El Cortez exterior walls were covered with spray-painted graffiti.

Yellow caution tape and police officers marked at an entrance to the Fremont Street Experience. People dining at nearby restaurants watched the protest from outdoor patios. ‬

At 7:52 p.m. a mass of protesters walked to the police line at North Eighth and Fremont to confront officers. Protesters were yelling at officers but the moment was at the present time peaceful with protesters yelling the name “George Floyd!”

Nearly two hours after the protest had begun, protesters had looped around the downtown area back to the Downtown Container Park.

On the corner of Seventh Street and Carson Avenue, Mariah Raso and Luis Sandoval waved their signs at drivers passing by.

Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., Raso’s sign read: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

“What brought us out here are the constant injustices that people of color and minorities face every day,” Raso said.

Nodding, her boyfriend added, “The message we’re trying to send, or at least trying to send, is that we’re tired.”

Call for calm

Earlier Saturday, members of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Multi-Cultural Advisory Council held a press conference asking for calm and peaceful protesting in the Las Vegas Valley as the nation continues to face roiling protests over the death of George Floyd.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Mayor Carolyn Goodman joined with members of the committee in urging for peaceful protest at Saturday night’s Black Lives Matter march.

“We in Las Vegas are a family of people,” said Goodman, shortly before quoting from King Jr.

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars,” Goodman said. “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

City Councilman Cedric Crear said, “Once again we find ourselves bearing witness to yet another senseless murder of a black man,” referencing Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis.

“Our black community is in mourning,” Crear said. “Locally, and nationally … over the last few months black people have not only watched their friends and family members die of higher rates of the Coronavirus. They have also watched people who look like them being gunned down while going for a jog, murdered in their homes, threatened while bird watching in Central Park and mercilessly choked on camera. Time and time and time again we have seen this. When will it end?”

Crear then went on to voice his support for local law enforcement, saying, “All police are not evil. I have seen first-hand the compassionate and responsible members of our law enforcement. Those officers are the majority.”

Crear praised Lombardo’s recent statement saying what happened to Floyd was against all Las Vegas police training standards.

Pastor Troy Martinez of the Recap Initiative spoke, saying he moved to Las Vegas from Los Angeles after riots in the 1990s.

“There are potentially people from outside of our community who would like to come here and cause violence and they don’t even live here,” Martinez said. “So we are not going to tolerate it and we are sending a message, make sure you keep your young people home. If you are an adult, it is a free country, you have a First Amendment right but we want to say do it peacefully.”

Lombardo praised members of the police multicultural committee in speaking up.

“We’ve made mistakes in the past but we’ve learned from them,” Lombardo said.

“What I want people to do is move forward,” he said. “What I want people to do today is protest, practice your First Amendment rights, within the limits of the law. You have no right to destroy people’s property or commit acts of violence.”

Friday protest

During Friday’s Black Lives Matter protest, nearly 400 protesters were on The Strip at its peak.

The Metropolitan Police Department said Saturday that it arrested 80 people and that 12 officers were injured. Two of the people arrested are photojournalists — one of whom works for the Review-Journal.

Police said Friday night that one officer was taken to a hospital with a hand injury, and another officer had minor injuries and wasn’t transported. The department hasn’t released information about the extent of injuries for the other officers.

Police gave several orders for protestors to disperse and began arresting people who didn’t comply, Metro said in a Saturday news release. Police characterized the protest as violent and said property damage occurred on the Strip.

Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter. Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter. Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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