Every Voice: Race, Protest, and Power in Las Vegas

On July 9, Desert Companion hosted “Every Voice: Race, Protest, and Power in Las Vegas,” a live Zoom roundtable on racial justice. Featured guests were Aaron Ford, Nevada Attorney General; Tenisha Freedom, organizer and activist; Tyler D. Parry, Assistant Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at UNLV; Lance L. Smith, a multidisciplinary artist, illustrator, and teacher; and Reverend Vance “Stretch” Sanders, Baptist youth pastor and president of All Shades United. The roundtable was moderated by Erica Vital-Lazare, CSN English professor, spoken-word artist, and all-around literary impresario.

How does protest translate into policy? Is defunding the police a feasible idea — or is reform more realistic? How is Las Vegas unique as it grapples with systemic racism on a local level? Panelists engaged these questions and many more.

If you missed this wide-ranging, thought-provoking discussion, here’s a link to a recording of the entire roundtable. Below are some outtakes and highlights. Be sure to pick up the August issue of Desert Companion, in which we’ll publish an edited version of the roundtable.

Aaron D. Ford on the importance of enforcing change:
In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, I didn't think anything was different. I didn't expect anything would be different. I thought it would continue to be yet another example of a Black man dying at the hands of police and nothing happening … I have been surprised at where we are now, which is on the precipice of actual policies being implemented. But beyond implementation, (policies) being enforced (is important). … I understand that some politicians in fact do nothing. Some do more than nothing. And part of my job as the top law enforcement officer in the state is to utilize the influence that I have in my position to be able to effectuate policy changes, but also the enforcement of those policies. 

Tenisha Freedom on whether Las Vegas’ tourism industry tries to hide or minimize racism and racial violence:
Las Vegas Metro Police Department is not exempt from racism, is not exempt from saturating Black and brown communities, is not exempt from murder and excessive force in our communities. …  Las Vegas is not unique in some of those areas of racism and oppression. 
You want to try to put out there that’s it’s all about tourism. The tourism aspect is a reason why Vegas is so little known about what really happens here on some of those fronts because there’s a lot of money there to hide it. A part of what we're doing is exposing that it is here, but also exposing the politicians, or people that are in power and police that are not speaking on it, that are not having a voice on it, that are not pushing reform on it, that are not defunding these entities that don't work to eradicate it. …

… We know our rights and the police know our rights, and instead they're being impeded and blocked and disregarded time and time again.  So our distrust with the police is a branch of it. But unfortunately it escalates up the entire tree and down to the roots.

Tyler D. Parry on the lack of education about racism in the school system:
What are (the children) learning about Las Vegas history? As a person who went through the school district, most of what I learned about racism or discrimination within Las Vegas came from either discussing it with elders within the community, or learning it after I graduated from high school. … Once I learned about a lot of these things after I graduated from high school, I became very resentful. People had lied to me. They were trying to cover it up. They didn't trust me with this type of knowledge.

Lance L. Smith on the energy of white supremacy:
Economics and racism go hand in hand. They feed on one another. I have a strong belief that most things are energy. White supremacy is energy. And what does it eat? Poor people, Black people, brown people. That's what it eats. So how do we address that energy? How has that energy made us as individuals who were brought here by force, in many ways, turn our backs on one another?

Reverend Vance “Stretch” Sanders on keeping the Black Lives Matter protests authentic:
It’s 2020, and we’re still saying Black Lives Matter. It’s 2020, we're still asking and demanding Black power. It’s 2020, racist police officers and officers of color are getting away with killing Black, brown, oppressed people. It’s 2020, Black folks are still being lynched on trees. It’s 2020, we’re still being abducted, kidnapped with our organs missing. … We need to get to the people and get rid of some of the commercialization of the movement because the Vegas movement to me is becoming very commercialized because you got folks who are trying to co-opt, stop, hijack the movement and turn it into something that it’s not. So I want to continue to keep this movement to be as authentic and as original as possible. 

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