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Protesters march peacefully on Las Vegas Strip in anti-racism rally

Updated July 26, 2020 - 12:35 am

More than 100 protesters marched up and down the Strip on Saturday night during a peaceful anti-racism and Black Lives Matter demonstration also organized to bring attention to ongoing protests in Portland, Oregon.

People began gathering at the Bellagio fountains and started marching down Las Vegas Boulevard South about 7:30 p.m.

The group chanted phrases that have been repeated throughout the country during Black Lives Matter protests, while also calling out the deaths of Las Vegas Valley men. Demonstrators referenced Byron Williams, Tashii Brown and Jorge Gomez, who were either killed by Metropolitan Police Department officers or died in Metro custody.

Throughout the protest, organizers on megaphones directed the group to stay on the sidewalk and not block the pathway. When someone tossed a water bottle toward a man driving a truck with an American flag, who had flipped off protesters, the organizers quickly rushed in to prevent further interactions with the driver.

Zyera Dorsey, who helped organize the protest, picked up a megaphone and addressed reporters before the march, emphasizing that the protest would be peaceful, despite what she said were recent misleading local news articles. She later told the Review-Journal that the turnout was “beautiful.”

At about 9:35 p.m., the group paused in front of the entrance to the Wynn, and a man leaned out the window of a nearby car holding a “Trump 2020” flag and shouting at protesters. The demonstrators booed and yelled at him, and when one man ran toward the car the driver quickly sped through a red light after swerving toward the pedestrian.

Before the march began, Jonathan MacArther, a Las Vegas defense attorney, said that it was his ninth demonstration he’s attended in town. MacArther said he showed up Saturday night to support demonstrators in Portland.

He also said he was more worried about police using tear gas or firing “less-than-lethal” projectiles, then he was worried about the potential for demonstrators to turn violent.

MacArthur, who is Black, said he’s always been a supporter of anti-racism movements.

“This is the moment that we’ve been waiting for white people to have all our lives,” he said about this year’s protests across the U.S.

Lyndsey Truesdell, 23, of Henderson, and Savannah Pryslek, 23, of Spring Valley, said Saturday marked their third and seventh protests respectively since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

Pryslek said she will continue to protest until “systematic injustice” is stopped.

Protesters remained on the Strip, with marchers walking southbound to the Aria and then northbound to Fashion Show Mall.

Details about a protest at the Bellagio were mentioned in a Thursday blog post on itsgoingdown.org, which was publicizing protests in other cities that the website said were in response to clashes between demonstrators and military-style federal agents in Portland.

Concern voiced

On Friday, U.S. Marshal Gary Schofield told the Review-Journal that he was concerned Saturday’s protest would turn violent and that demonstrators would target the federal courthouse in Las Vegas. But the group stayed miles away from the federal building.

Federal agents in Portland have arrested dozens during nightly demonstrations against racial injustice that often turn violent,The Associated Press reported. The Department of Homeland Security tweeted last week that federal agents were barricaded in Portland’s federal courthouse at one point and had lasers pointed at their eyes in an attempt to blind them.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s attorney general has attempted to sue, saying that federal agents have whisked people away in unmarked vehicles, The Associated Press said.

While Portland has been in the national spotlight in recent days, protests have erupted throughout the county since May over Floyd’s death. The 46-year-old died in Minneapolis police custody after officer Derek Chauvin, who has since been charged with murder, knelt on the handcuffed man’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

The protests in Las Vegas have been largely peaceful, but on June 1, demonstrator Jorge Gomez was shot and killed by Metropolitan Police Department officers, and Metro officer Shay Mikalonis was shot and seriously injured while attempting to arrest someone during a protest.

Metro police have arrested dozens of protesters in Las Vegas, including legal observers and two journalists, and have used teargas and “less-than-lethal” projectiles to disperse crowds. The department has said that some officers have been injured by demonstrators throwing rocks and water bottles.

No one was seen being arrested on Saturday night.

Minor incident

The group mostly interacted with the police through chants on Saturday night. One person held a sign reading, “Divest LVMPD Invest In The Community,” referencing the national “defund the police” movement to reallocate police budgets to other community resources.

At one point during the protest, someone pulled over in a car and appeared to be exchanging water bottles with the protesters. About eight officers pulled the car over, as the group chanted, “It’s just water” and “Leave them alone.”

In messages to a reporter, Ashley Lesieur said her friend was driving north on Las Vegas Boulevard and passed the protesters. Her friend pulled over and Lesieur handed out waters from a cooler.

Police did not say why they were pulled over, “even though we asked,” Lesieur said. “They said, ‘Do you see the red and blue lights? That’s why.’”

Lesieur said she could hear the marchers chanting. “It just speaks to the feeling of unity in the BLM movement,” she said.

She was given a traffic citation for “opening door in traffic prohibited unless reasonably safe,” with a note that said “did exit vehicle in travel lane handing out water to group.”

Lesieur disputed the last part, saying she had pulled off of the main lanes.

“I look forward to seeing their evidence that I did this when I go to court,” she said.

The march ended in front of the Bellagio fountains. Chants of “Jorge Gomez” blocked out the music playing as the fountains danced, and Dorsey took to the megaphone to call for police to release surveillance footage of Gomez’s shooting.

Police have said Gomez pointed a rifle at officers before he was shot 19 times by four officers June 1 in front of the federal courthouse during a protest. There is no body-camera footage of the shooting.

“I don’t care what he did,” Dorsey shouted into the microphone. “It’s not justified for anybody to be shot 19 times.”

She then told the crowd to leave and walk in groups to their cars. The group of protesters, which had not dwindled in size during the march, left without any noticeable interactions with police.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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