A weekend of peaceful protests began Friday afternoon. A City of Reno press conference was held to unveil murals painted by local artist Joe C. Rock on the plywood that will, for weeks to come, cover windows broken from City Hall during the May 30 riots.
The City of Reno commissioned Rock to paint the murals several weeks ago. He began painting last Wednesday and is expected to wrap up sometime today. Reno City Councilmember Naomi Duerr, who led the event, said the unveiling of the partially complete mural was intentional—drawing a comparison between it and the current state of affairs across the country.
Black Lives Matters demonstrations have been held around the world in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. There are calls nationwide to fundamentally change the nature of law enforcement.
“Things are unfinished,” Duerr said. “Today, we want to announce that the Council has heard your voices. We have received your texts, your comments, your letters, your emails, your social media posts. We are prepared to take the next steps—in the mural of our lives and in our relationships, and between our relationships with each other.”
According to Duerr, the City has received more than 8,000 letters from residents over the last several weeks.
“A typical month for us might be a couple of hundred,” she said. “These letters have demanded justice, reform and rebudgeting. We need to respond.”
The mural covers broken windows spanning the south side of City Hall. It’s comprised of the words Equality and Unity broken up by a painting of a Black child holding a Black Lives Matter protest sign. Rock, who was there painting before the event began, said the protest sign will eventually be covered in art made by the community.
“On the board, I did write what’s on there now—just to make a clear statement, but that will be covered in just drawings from the community and handprints or whatever, the interactive part,” Rock said. “We have paper and markers available, so you could sit for two hours and draw something—and then we’ll post that up.”
He said he thinks Reno was late to begin placing murals over boarded-up buildings.
“They had to put the plywood up, which they’d been doing around the city since COVID started,” he said. “And I believe we were a little late already to that game—because in every other city, those boards were instantly covered in murals the week of. The boarded-up windows already…doesn’t look good…The point of it is that this plywood would be up for eight weeks no matter what, so why would you want to stare at plywood for eight weeks, you know, on your City Hall, whereas you can stare at this—and even if you have a negative opinion, you can stare at this rather than plywood.”
Protesters at the event later said they believe the City has been late to initiate many things, including police reform and the release of police body camera footage of the fatal officer shooting of 18-year-old Sparks man Miciah Lee in January.
After Duerr had thanked a long list of people ranging from members of the Reno-Sparks chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to members of the Reno Arts and Culture Commission, and invited them up to put their painted handprints on the mural, protesters produced a bullhorn.
They used it to read out statistics about policing in the United States and Reno, specifically, and to call for the release of information concerning Lee’s death. They called upon Duerr and other officials there—including Nevada Senator Julia Ratti and Washoe County School Board of Trustee Vice President Angela Taylor—to come and speak with them directly.
This did not happen before the event ended and the crowd dispersed. Many in attendance remained or later returned to the plaza for a peaceful event organized by KaPreace Young, co-founder of women’s empowerment group Shades of Queening. The group has hosted mother-daughter-figure brunches, movie viewings and facilitated community dialogue through other female-centered events.
The event was relatively quiet despite a large crowd. Children and young adults rode skateboards across City Plaza, and people used chalk to create murals on the concrete—including one large mural spelling out “Black Lives Matter.” Young said she chose not to have speakers at the event in order to encourage a celebration of Juneteenth—a holiday marking the date in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned of emancipation.
“We really wanted to give the Black community a reason to come out and just celebrate,” Young said. “I know there’s been protests and vigils—and we’ve been doing a lot of talking. But, today, we didn’t want any speakers. We just wanted to come and engage with one another in a calm setting.
“As a mother, I can say that as much as I want my son to be there right there by me—because I’m not only marching or protesting for my life but his life as well—you also don’t know what the person next to you is or isn’t going to do or is or isn’t going to say. I think, for children, you want to keep this level of innocence—but you also want to make sure you’re being honest and transparent with them. And then you’re also keeping them safe. There’s certain things you can’t protect them from, but, depending on how protests turn out, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Despite the calm, family-friendly environment, there was still some rancor on display during the event. As Young spoke with This Is Reno, a white woman came—muttering under her breath—and scrawled the words “all lives matter” across the corner of the large mural.
Pausing mid-thought, Young said, “It’s things like that, and then you wonder why Black people don’t speak up. Hopefully they can get nice pictures, because I highly doubt this is going to stay out here much longer.”
More protests Saturday
The mural Young’s group created Friday night was still there—although well worn by skateboards—on Saturday afternoon when another protest arrived at City Plaza after departing from the Reno Arch shortly after 1 p.m.
This event also began quietly with protesters marching largely in silence, broken by occasional chants, from the Reno Arch down Virginia Street to the plaza. Upon arriving there, its two young organizers—high school senior Hannalea Weinzweig and recent graduate Maali DeLeon—introduced themselves and their first speaker, University of Nevada, Reno, Student Body President Dominique Hall. She’s the leader of the school’s undergraduate student government, the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, and a senior studying journalism.
“I don’t know if you guys know, but we released a statement from Black student leaders at the University of Nevada, Reno,” Hall said, adding that this initially led to conversations with U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak.
“We wanted to have actionable and tangible goals for our local representatives, which is why we launched the Listen to Us platform,” she said. “To find this platform for different institutional goals online for different institutions such as the University of Nevada, Reno, the Reno community and the state of Nevada, you can search the hashtag #ListenToUs on any social media platform… From there I think you’ll see that our goals are very tangible, including having police reform and university reform… Higher education is not meant for underrepresented groups, and we need to change that. It starts by, obviously, pestering your local representatives. They’re supposed to represent us, so why can’t they change and reform things for underrepresented groups to have higher education?”
After Hall spoke, Weinzweig and DeLeon offered the bullhorn for people in the crowd to make statements.
A man who identified himself as Ed Gurowitz said he was there representing the Mankind Project, a global network of non-profit organizations focused on modern male initiation, self-awareness and personal growth.
“There are 70,000 men worldwide—Black, white, Latino, queer, straight, questioning—and we stand with Black Lives Matter,” he said. “I’m here to tell you, all of you, Black lives matter, and we stand with you.”
A man from Hawaii spoke of learning how his ancestors were treated when their kingdom was taken over by whites. He asked the crowd to consider from where all humans originated, to which they responded in unison, “Africa!”
“Where did we come from?” the man asked several more times, to responses of “Africa!” before saying, “Everyone one of us here is Black, believe it or not,” a statement to which much of the crowd responded with silence.
A young girl took the megaphone a short time later, earning loud cheers from the crowd.
“I wanted to say 400 years,” she said. “Think about that number…That is how long Black people have been dealing with oppression, believe it or not…We need to educate ourselves about what’s going on in the world right now, and we need to stand up for those who aren’t able to.”
Not long after, the crowd stood up to an elderly white man in a camouflage cowboy hat who arrived and stood directly behind those speaking—shouting over them that the protest was “bullshit.”
“Be quiet and let her talk,” responded a protester.
When he continued his interruptions an elderly white woman emerged from the crowd.
“Have some manners,” she said walking up to him and striking him on the arm. When protesters told her to refrain from resorting to violence, she responded, “Oh, I’m older than he is.”
To drown the interrupter out, the crowd began chants of, “No justice, no peace,” to which he responded by yelling “All lives matter.” This continued until one of the protesters stepped up and raised his voice to be heard above the shouting.
“Hey, hey, hey, you’re only giving him what he wants,” the protester said. “He’s only going to get louder… Everybody come back this way. No, seriously. If you give him the attention he wants, he’ll keep going. Just ignore him. Ignore him… Pretend like he’s not here.”
When the protesters turned their backs on the man and held their signs aloft in front of his face, he turned and left, shouting “All lives matter, especially cops!” as he walked away.
After the incident, several people among a group of seven who’d stayed at the back of the crowd near the river holding large black and white umbrellas moved closer. They said their purpose there was to help protesters ignore the violence and intimidation of the armed civilians who’ve counter-protested on several occasions.
“If those GI Joe looking dudes showed up again, we were just going to stand in front of them so they don’t get the visibility,” one of them said. (Of course, umbrellas have also been used to deflect tear gas during protests and riots across the globe.)
No armed counter-protesters turned up during Saturday’s BLM event. And as it prepared to wrap up, another group of protesters arrived at City Plaza—these ones representing an anti-U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement belief.
Two crowds meld together
This event was organized by Ashley Solano and her friend Helen Miranda.
“Our first protest was, like, a week ago,” Solano said, adding that she anticipates organizing future events, too. “Our whole goal is to get as much people out of detention centers as possible—because they’re not doing anything. They’re literally just seeking better lives, trying to better their families and trying to make sure their kids don’t end up in bad stuff, too.”
Solano and several other anti-ICE protesters stood near the fringes of the BLM event as it drew to a close. One of them was a woman who said her name is Alicet.
“We’re here because of the children that are in detention centers—because of ICE—that are separated from their families,” she said. “That’s one of my main reasons I’m here, basically my voice is their voice. They’re children. They’re being given foil for blankets. This is a detention center, you know. And they’re children that were separated from their families. So, basically, maybe just spread the word. Maybe give them back to their families. Maybe send them back to where they came from. I don’t know—but something better than being given foil for a blanket.”
At the close of the BLM protest, Weinzweig and DeLeon encouraged participants to stay for the anti-ICE protest. They and many others did, and the two events melted peacefully into one.
Rather than using their smaller one, Miranda and Solano took up the bullhorn brought for the BLM event.
Miranda told the crowd that their first protest had only garnered about 20 or so people.
“But I feel like that was a success,” she said. “We were going to be here alone—just two girls, 20 and 21 years old, fighting against ICE detention centers, even if we had to do it alone.”
With organizers of all three of the weekend’s events at City Plaza saying they won’t be the last, it seems City Plaza’s use as a public forum for discussing the quest for justice and equality will continue.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.