Now, more than ever, we’re seeing policy-makers affirm, “Black Lives Matter”. Do they mean it? And if so, how will they prove that they understand the meaning, the worth, and the beauty of black people’s lives?
In the last few days, we’ve gotten some indication on how elected officials in Nevada and across the nation will respond to the demands we’re seeing and hearing at Black Lives Matter protests. It’s yet to be determined whether their response will rise to this occasion.
“Now we have a social justice issue that has brewed up, and [it] is worthy and timely and certainly of an emergency nature.”
– Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak is joined by elected leaders to make brief statements and answer media questions addressing recent protests over the senseless killing of George Floyd and the systematic racism and injustice Black and minority communities face.
Posted by 8 News Now on Friday, June 5, 2020
Last Friday, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) appeared with Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford (D), Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), and Assembly Member Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) to address the protests that have emerged in Nevada and across the nation since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. While Sisolak made no concrete promise of specific action on a specific timeframe, he did make some news in implying that racial justice and criminal justice reform will be on the agenda for any special session of the Nevada Legislature that gets called due to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic crisis and budget crunch.
That implication only strengthened yesterday, when Frierson pointed out, “We have the budget issue. We have the coronavirus pandemic issue. […] Now we have a social justice issue that has brewed up, and [it] is worthy and timely and certainly of an emergency nature.”
Frierson stated this during an online panel discussion hosted by Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford (D). A little earlier last week, I listened in on another conversation Ford had with legislators, one hosted by former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign. While there was some talk about Biden’s “Lift Every Voice” racial justice and African-American community empowerment plan, these African-American elected officials and Nevada community leaders also addressed the inequities at the core of the current crisis.
“I believe we need truth. We need authenticity. We need strength, not someone who thinks he knows it all but someone who knows how to listen to us all.”
– State Senator Pat Spearman
Early in the call, Ford described the Black Lives Matter protests as such: “There are a lot of voices being lifted right now across the country, including right here in this state. […] Across Nevada, we’re seeing protests against police brutality and for racial justice.”
Ford lauded Biden’s plan as a “strengthened approach to justice”, then contrasted Biden’s outreach to civil rights activists with President Donald Trump’s far more confrontational approach: “We are looking for a Unifier-in-chief. Instead, [Trump] has used incendiary racist language and fired tear gas at protesters.”
A little later in the call, State Senator Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) echoed Ford’s take on Biden v. Trump, then added this: “I believe we need truth. We need authenticity. We need strength, not someone who thinks he knows it all but someone who knows how to listen to us all.”
“It has taught us a different way of living. And especially for us as African-Americans, it has taught us a different way of dying.”
– State Senator Pat Spearman, on health care in the era of COVID-19
Biden’s “Lift Every Voice” plan addresses multiple elements of institutional racism, including long-standing inequities in criminal justice, public education, health care, economic advancement, and environmental protection. Biden and his plan have attracted praise from black community leaders, such as civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) and the Nevada leaders featured in this story. However, Biden and other high-ranking Democrats have also run into criticism from some Black Lives Matter activists (more on this later) who demand stronger and more direct action.
On health care, Spearman pointed to the increasingly noticeable racial disparity in COVID-19 infections and deaths as she stated, “The health care system has failed us.” And on COVID-19, Spearman noted, “It has taught us a different way of living. And especially for us as African-Americans, it has taught us a different way of dying.”
Spearman then spoke about another health care problem affecting black Nevadans: “We do not have the support system in place for mental and emotional well-being. […] What we’re really falling down on is mental health.” Her regional colleague in the Assembly then provided a real-life example of this very real problem.
“Many [police officers] are good people who want to serve our community. We need to empower them to speak out when bad things happen to our community.”
– Assembly Member Daniele Monroe-Moreno
As the call progressed, Assembly Member Daniele Monroe-Moreno spoke about a North Las Vegas constituent who had been preparing for suicide. Monroe-Moreno explained, “She had no food and had no money to pay the rent. She didn’t know what she had to live for.” But when she and Spearman found out and intervened, “Thankfully, we got her the mental health [care] she needed.”
Monroe-Moreno then added, “Our job as elected officials is to bridge that gap, provide some hope, and listen to them.” And then, a little later in the call, Monroe-Moreno addressed the issue of police brutality that’s sparked the recent protests.
“As a former law enforcement officer, let me say that not all police officers are bad,” Monroe-Moreno declared. She then added, “Many are good people who want to serve our community. We need to empower them to speak out when bad things happen to our community.”
“We need to start holding members of our law enforcement community accountable, and we need them to hold each other accountable.”
– Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson
Earlier in the call, Frierson addressed the state’s budget crunch and how budget cuts may particularly harm, and perhaps even reverse, progress in educational equity. Frierson specifically warned, “We have kids who don’t have transportation, don’t have food, and don’t have reliable access to high-speed internet. These kids are already going to be a couple months behind in their learning. We need to make sure these kids get caught up and stay caught up.”
Then on the matter of police brutality, Frierson declared, “We need to start holding members of our law enforcement community accountable, and we need them to hold each other accountable. We need to hold our judges accountable for their decisions. We need to hold prosecutors accountable for their decisions.”
So what exactly will that accountability look like? At Sisolak’s press conference the next day, Frierson noted that state officials still have not begun implementing AB 478, a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Sisolak last year that requires police officers to complete training on matters like racial profiling, conflict de-escalation, and mental health. At that same event, Sisolak stated, “Addressing historic and systemic injustice will take a commitment from everyone in our state,” but he hasn’t yet specified what kind of commitment we’ll see in the weeks ahead.
Is “reform” enough to correct this historic injustice?
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While there is no single policy prescription that will erase the decades of systemic racism and excessive policing – it’s time we create structural change with meaningful reforms. Today, we introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, the first ever police accountability and transparency legislation in Congress. I want to break this legislation down for all of you so that you know exactly what I’m advocating for to keep our communities safe.
As we await potential action here in Nevada, we’re seeing activists push for greater action across the nation. At the federal level, Reps. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) and Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) are backing House Democratic leaders’ Justice in Policing Act that bans chokeholds (like the one that killed George Floyd), bans “no-knock warrants” for federal drug crime investigations, creates a national registry to track police misconduct, expands the scope of police misconduct eligible for federal criminal prosecution, and ties federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies to reform benchmarks going forward.
While Trump and Congressional Republican leaders have yet to say specifically where they stand on this bill, they’ve already indicated they’re more interested in campaigning against the Black Lives Matter movement akin to how Trump and the GOP campaigned against immigrant civil rights activists in 2018. So far, a few Nevada Republican legislators have signaled openness to reform efforts, but more prominent Republicans are already going in a very different direction (as in, whichever direction Trump is moving).
Join our statement, #8CantWait is a toothless set of demands that doesn't target fundamental ways & racist underpinnings that govern policing. It serves as a valve to release pressure & distracts from the movement to #Defundthepolice & end the violence and killings of Black ppl pic.twitter.com/zWsiobr9Kk
— LA CAN (@LACANetwork) June 6, 2020
Yet while top Democrats in Nevada and nationally are coalescing behind a reform platform largely along the lines of Campaign Zero’s “#8CantWait”, some Black Lives Matter activists and progressive policy-makers are demanding more. Over the weekend, a super-majority of the Minneapolis City Council admitted, “Our efforts at incremental reform have failed. Period.” They’re instead promising to dismantle the current police department and establish a new community safety program, and activists are pushing other municipalities to “defund the police” by redirecting funding from (the increasingly militaristic) police programs to public infrastructure and the social safety net instead.
It remains to be seen what kind of legislation becomes law in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Breonna Taylor’s murder, and the many more cases of police brutality that have sparked the current round of Black Lives Matter protests. But at least now, after all this suffering, we may finally be seeing a historic groundswell in demands for change. Now, it’s up to activists and policy-makers to determine what that change ultimately looks like.
You have constitutional rights, regardless of what anyone claims. If you are in need of legal assistance, check with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Washoe Legal Services, Volunteer Attorneys for Rural Nevadans, and the Nevada Supreme Court’s Self-help Center. If you’d like to help during this time of need, check out the ACLU of Nevada, PLAN’s Las Vegas Freedom Fund, Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, and additional organizations across the nation who need our support.
Cover photo by Elaine Hurd.