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Race relations are heating up in Las Vegas, from protests over anti-immigration billboards, doctors accusing hospitals of racism to a federal investigation of housing discrimination. Next week the NAACP will hold its first civil rights forum to bring all these allegations together. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports on the one incident that prompted civil rights organizations to bring groups together and review the state of the city's race relations. This report contains strong language some listeners might find offensive.
PLASKON: The streets and houses at Southern Highlands Golf Course on the southwest side of town are so quiet, they appear abandoned despite every perfectly manicured yard and tree.
PLASKON: Steve Ferguson lives here though, full time. The 50-year old former waste manager moved here from LA three years ago to live out his days in the sun with a superb view.
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FERGUSON: You can see from this, this is why somebody would move here. This is the ninth hole of the golf course. So does it stand to reason that a person would move here to look at the golf course.
PLASKON: He paid 90-thousand dollars for a membership to the club so he could play on the green behind his house.
PLASKON: As a member he also had privileges to this clubhouse. It was in the clubhouse Ferguson says a neighbor first made his perceptions of African American's clear.
FERGUSON: Hey Steve is it okay since all you brothers call each other nigger, is it okay if I call you nigger. I said no you can't call me that and I take deep offence that you would even call me something like that and then he wants to slap me on the back and say I am just teasing.
PLASKON: Later, his daughter walked up the steps to his home and was greeted by a horrifying black and white picture.
FERGUSON: As you came to the front door, that was stuck with a pin, like a push pin and my daughter came home and found it and it scared them so bad that they just left and they weren't going to stay.
PLASKON: It was the picture of a man hanging by the neck. On the back was printed a phrase including racial epithets said the only good African American is a dead one. Ferguson complained to the club and the homeowners association hoping the association would use its weight to tell residents racism is unacceptable.
FERGUSON: They can literally kick you out of your house for violation of their CCRs someone came and put a picture of a hanging black man with a noose around his neck and they never so much as sent me a letter saying we are concerned.
PLASKON: So he filed suit against the club. He keeps the response in a cupboard under his bar-b-q.
SOUND: Opening door
FERGUSON: One or two days after we filed a preliminary injunction, this was thrown at the house and it hit the pillar and hit the ground here.
PLASKON: A rock, with a message tapped on to it.
FERGUSON: It says F . . . Y . . .
PLASKON: Since then eggs have been thrown at his door, a raggedy red truck drove by and he says the people inside yelled the "N" word and sped away.
FERGUSON: I get phone calls just about every other day, you are gonna die nigger.
PLASKON: Ferguson says if this kind of thing happened anywhere else the community would stand up and say this kind of racist activity is unacceptable. Ferguson's plight made national news and at least one resident started to ask questions at the club. She remembers what she was told about Ferguson.
RESIDENT: All we heard is that he is a felon and he is not allowed to be a member. And so were asking questions. I don't want to live in a place like that either, a place that is racist that is exclusive, because hello, we are living in the 21st century.
PLASKON: Felon or not, she had never seen or heard about the picture posted on his door, the glue in his lock, boulder thrown at his house, eggs on his door or racist phone calls. She says she has never experienced Ferguson's problem of getting African American friends into the gated community either. Now that she knows what he has been through, she said she will stop by to talk to him. Ferguson's complaint is just one of the hundreds of racial discrimination complaints the NAACP received in the first few month of this year.
FERGUSON: If this could happen to someone like me in one of these exclusive gated golf club communities what do you think happens to people who only have bus fare to ride the bus to work, what do you think happens to people of color who only have enough money to eat McDonalds every day, what do you think they catch? Where do they go?"
PLASKON: Ferguson's story has prompted NAACP president Dean Ishman to try to keep the momentum of Las Vega's interest in racism and bring some of the lower profile cases to light. He says given the level of discrimination in the city there isn't much for African Americans to celebrate on Las Vegas 100-year anniversary.
ISHMAN: Here it is, they are celebrating 100 years and to have this thing come up at southern highlands we thought something should happen to say that there is not much to celebrate here in the way of civil rights. We say that we have come a long way but the problem has gone underground and that is what we want to bring to the forefront.
PLASKON: So next week eight civil rights organizations will present the city's first forum, Civil Rights the Unfinished Agenda, the city's first such forum. In his own words, Ishman says the testimony from victims will stand Las Vegas up on it's ears.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR