F STREET PROTESTERS HIT THE STRIP

A large group of people wearing matching outfits and chanting in unison made a spectacle of themselves today.

This was their intent, a spectacle, featuring a documentarian, the local TV news folks, newspaper writers and photographers from across the valley.

In this, they succeeded.

Most of them donned red T-shirts as a sign of solidarity. Many carried signs. “Down but not out” was a popular one. They chanted and shouted and sang hymn-like songs as they marched down the Strip as lunchtime approached.

“The West Side fought the battle of F Street and the wall came tumbling down,” went some of their lyrics.

The group opposes the closure of F Street in the historic black neighborhood of West Las Vegas. This closure has been long planned as part of the Interstate 15 widening project.

“The system of segregation is on its deathbed,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. bellowed from a system of loudspeakers in the back of a green Dodge pickup truck accompanying the marchers.

And there is the argument this group makes. That the closure of F Street will in fact segregate them — will segregate their part of town — from the rest of Las Vegas.

This, they said, is not right. It is typical of how they have been treated for decades, they said.

And so they marched, hoping for attention, hoping for change. Hoping for respect.

They marched from behind the Flamingo, north on the Strip, to the Convention Center, where the National Association of Broadcasters is holding its annual show. It is not uncommon for protesters to seek attention by focusing on the NAB show.

Trish Geran, an event organizer, said getting attention was a main goal of the march.

Saul Willis is 58. He is thin, with a mostly white beard and bifocals. He said he lives at 602 McWilliams Ave, which is on the corner of F Street.

“The construction did a lot of damage to my home,” Willis said as the marchers began to organize this morning in the street outside the Second Baptist Church, which sits on the corner of F Street and Madison Avenue.

He said he has lived in the neighborhood since 1968, when he was a teenager. The neighborhood is mostly the same as it used to be, he said, just older. In that, West Las Vegas is almost the polar opposite of the rest of Las Vegas.

Over the years, Willis said, various streets into and out of the neighborhood have been shut down.

This F Street thing is the latest.

“I see some kind of a pattern,” he said.

Some blame racism. They say that if this weren’t a black neighborhood, none of this would have happened.

Or maybe it’s happening because it’s a poor neighborhood. Surely, this would never happen in Summerlin, they say.

“I can’t say what’s going on inside their minds,” Willis said of the project’s planners. “I don’t know what’s going on. I just don’t think it’s fair.”

Government officials have said they did all that was required of them in designing the freeway project, which involves widening I-15 where it passes over the neighborhood. A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of neighborhood residents, though it has not been resolved.

State transportation officials say it would cost $30 million to redesign and reconstruct what’s been done already. The entire project will cost $240 million.

What’s being done makes the protesters angry. They say a main thoroughfare out of their neighborhood and into the city would be gone.

It would be like they’ve been walled off from the rest of town. In a cage, almost.

“It’s time for people who are disenfranchised, who have been pushed so far, to show America what’s going on,” said Piange Jackson, a protester.

Her companion, who said she goes by the single name Levi, said she feels like West Las Vegas is being left behind.

“Everything’s being built up in that direction,” she said, pointing toward downtown, a few blocks away. “They’re cutting us off. It’s just not right.”

So these dozens of protesters boarded a bus, a few cars, at least one motorcycle. They headed toward the Strip, where they chanted and shouted and sang hymn-like songs.

And they marched, in search of respect.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.

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