By Trevor Bexon, Bob Conrad, Jeri Davis, Don Dike-Anukam,
Kristen Hackbarth, Ty O’Neil and Lucia Starbuck.
Additional video footage by Tyson Falk and Tony Contini.
Additional photography by Isaac Hoops.
WARNING: These videos and images may disturbing to some.
Two protests hit the streets in downtown Reno yesterday. The first was a peaceful, organized Black Lives Matter protest that drew thousands to downtown. The second, of about hundred people, was laden with violence and vandalism.
A thousand marchers gathered in front of the BELIEVE sign at City Plaza and spilled onto the surrounding street to protest police brutality and the May 25 murder of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis. A passerby’s video went viral of Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he said, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd died in police custody. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
African Americans across the U.S., and here in Reno, still live in fear and remain wary when dealing with law enforcement, as so many have lost their lives while jogging, for not using a turn signal, being in their own homes and lawfully carrying a gun.
Dr. LaDawn Talbott is a plastic surgeon in Reno. She said she had an experience with police in Dallas, Texas when she was about 5 years old that she hasn’t been able to forget.
“My mom didn’t turn her turn signal on, or something minor, so he stopped her, and he asked her for her driver’s license, and when she went to bend over to get into her purse to pull the license out, the cop pulled a gun on my mom, and I just remember her scream,” Talbott said. “I was in the back seat and she just said, ‘Don’t shoot,’ and he didn’t, thank God, but it just always stuck in my mind. I’ve always just felt really strongly about the way police treat other races or profile other races.”
Talbott said she hasn’t had any negative experiences with law enforcement in Reno, but she said when she has been pulled over for minor traffic violations she is quick to show officers her doctor’s badge.
“When they see that, they do treat me differently, which shouldn’t be the case. I think everybody should be treated the same, but for them to all of a sudden switch from treating me very disrespectfully to treating me respectfully, it just kind of tells you everything,” Talbott said.
Other protestors marched because they have young children, and do not want them to have to grow up in fear of being treated poorly by law enforcement.
Moneisha Francis marched at the protest too. She had a photo of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on her shirt. Martin was a young black teenager who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a white neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Florida on Feb. 26, 2012.
Francis has four sons younger than 5 between her and her partner. She said she has to have tough conversations with them at a young age.
“It’s sad that we have to talk to them about this and how to talk to police, that we’re minorities, that we can’t just be walking around. We can’t just exercise our right to do anything. We have to be cautious,” Francis said.
Francis said even though the COVID-19 pandemic is still occurring, she felt that she needed to march for her kids to have a better future.
“I just hope that one day, especially when our kids get older, that they don’t have to live like this. They don’t have to fear the people that are supposed to protect us,” Francis said. “I love my white friends, it’s really not all of them. I’ve had cops that have been there for me, but I’m scared, and I’m scared of all of them.”
Peaceful march to the courthouse
The protest’s organizers stated multiple times online, and over bull horns on Saturday, that the march was to be peaceful. They also warned that some elements would try to distract from the peaceful nature of the gathering by trying to incite violence and vandalism.
Organizers stated on their Facebook page that they’d coordinated the protest with law enforcement, too, in case there were counter protests from white supremacists. The Facebook post stated that the Reno Police Department (RPD) would be present at the protest for marchers’ safety, and would not be participating in the protest in any other way.
RPD blocked off parts of Virginia Street to allow protestors to march from the BELIEVE sculpture in City Plaza to the Bruce R. Thompson Courthouse and Federal Building at 400 South Virginia St.
The march was moving as a crowd of about a thousand people, flooding across the Virginia Street Bridge. There were families there with their children, young adults, members of the American Indian movement and people of all races gathered together chanting, “No justice, no peace,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Once at the courthouse, speakers urged marchers to sign a petition called “#PoliceArrestReform2020,” which asks law enforcement to keep their body cams on at all times while on duty, and if a body cam malfunctions, grievances are in favor of the victim.
The petition also asks police departments to revise their arresting procedures: once an individual is handcuffed they must remain standing, no force is to be applied to the head area of the person being arrested, or any kind of blockage of airways. The petition also demands that when misconduct occurs and is proven, the authorities are prosecuted and fired without pay immediately.
However, some voiced that the police should be abolished completely. The Reno-Sparks NAACP called for calm.
“Aggrieved Nevadans have shared pain with us every day since 1945,” said NAACP President Lonnie Feemster. “We advocate for the voiceless and for non-violence. We do not want our work for civil rights advocacy and justice to be undermined by individuals that want to destroy, use violence in our communities and burn our stores.
“The frustration with law enforcement is institutional and understandable,” Feemster added. “We have long criticized local civil service exams as discriminating against minorities trying to enter the police academy. We have been heard but it has not been enough.”
Police station vandalized, rioting continues past midnight
A group of about a few hundred split from the main demonstration at the courthouse to continue marching.
RPD continued to block off streets as marchers walked peacefully and cars honked in support.
However, at the back of the group of marchers a white man in a group with other white men, all of whom were masked, was spray painting “FTP” (Fuck the police) and “ACAB” (All cops are bastards) on various windows, walls and utility boxes.
The marchers headed south on Virginia Street, circled back through Midtown and ended up at the Reno Police Department on Second Street. That’s when things got violent.
Rioters spray painted the RPD building, broke the RPD seal off the building, tried to smash windows with rocks, threw rocks at cruisers parked in the yard and burned the American flag at the station.
Some tried to keep the demonstrators peaceful, but the building ended up covered in graffiti as rioters cursed at officers who watched the scene unfold from the roof of the station.
RPD did not take action against the rioters at that time, according to RPD Deputy Chief Tom Robinson.
“We figured now’s not a good time to do that. We didn’t want to incite the crowd. We don’t want to make things worse,” Robinson told This Is Reno just after the vandalism occurred. “I mean we understand the anger that a lot of them are experiencing. We understand what’s going on, obviously, with what happened in Minneapolis. My direction to our staff was just stay out of their way, let them demonstrate, let them do their thing and not make the issue worse.”
The demonstrators marched north through downtown to the University of Nevada, Reno, turned around, went back to the police station, then back downtown to City Hall.
The crowd became increasingly aggressive toward members of the media. At dusk, the violence ramped up even more. This Is Reno political writer Don Dike Anukam was assaulted by a rioter after vandals took baseball bats, skateboards and rocks to City Hall windows. Rioters entered the building through shattered windows and threw out furniture and other fixtures, then carried out the Nevada flag, started a small fire and set it ablaze.
Anukam ended up today in urgent care and later at Renown Regional Medical Center.
“It looks like I’m going to be okay,” he posted today on Twitter.
Rioting and clashes with law enforcement continued through midnight. At least two armored SWAT vehicles were on site with numerous officers in tactical gear.
Rioters repeatedly threw rocks and water bottles at police. Police responded with tear gas, what appeared to be rubber bullets and flash grenades.
Multiple members of the news media, including News 4, KTVN, This Is Reno, KUNR Reno Public Radio and The Nevada Sagebrush were tear gassed. KOLO-TV had a window smashed out of one of its vehicles. A number of businesses were vandalized.
Many on the scene decried the violent activities of the rioters; although, they were sympathetic with their anger.
“To the protesters…we hear you and we are listening, and more importantly, we invite you to be part of a constructive solution, and the healing our community desperately needs. We respect and defend your right to protest, but please express yourselves peacefully,” urged Governor Steve Sisolak, Nevada State Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Attorney General Aaron Ford. “And, be assured we will not rest until everyone in our community feels safe and respected.”
Sisolak, at the request of local law enforcement, called in the Nevada National Guard to assist.
Rioting began to subside after midnight, but a helicopter continued hovering overhead for hours, and flash grenades could be heard exploding into the morning.
More than 20 people were arrested. According to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, 16 are Reno residents, four are from Sparks and the rest are from Fallon, Truckee and Anderson, California.
Acting Police Chief Tom Robinson said today that it appears a number of the rioters were from out of the area and could be associated with groups attempting to incite violence at protests.
Reno quickly rebuilds
Hundreds of Reno residents, including the organizers of yesterday’s rally, began cleanup efforts at 6 a.m. today. Most graffiti was removed by mid-day.
The Reno Fire Department said it is “proud to serve for and with the 100+ volunteers on scene” this morning. The police station’s graffiti was painted over, and repairs to City Hall were ongoing with numerous windows smashed, council chambers in disarray and the first floor damaged by rioters.
Early estimates at damages were more than $100,000. That total is likely to rise.
Police Chief and Acting City Manager Jason Soto said some rioters have already been identified.
“Arrests will be made at the appropriate time,” he said today. Police will be reviewing surveillance video and media reports to prosecute rioters.
Chief Soto also apologized to the news media for getting tear gassed.
“It’s been an unfortunate day in Reno’s history,” Mayor Hillary Schieve said today. “We are a country in mourning right now. We are a city in mourning. Love lives here, not hate. I want to remind our community of that.”
Schieve today issued a mandatory curfew within the Reno city limits starting at 5:30 p.m. tonight, Sunday, May 31. The curfew will expire Monday, June 1 at 5 a.m. unless further extended.