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Racist rants, bomb threats overshadow Reno City Council’s Juneteenth meeting

By Lucia Starbuck
Published: Last Updated on

The Reno City Council held a virtual council meeting today. First up was the Pledge of Allegiance. Then came public comment, which quickly went south.

The first public comment was from someone who called himself Vance Walker. He said he wanted to mention the recent protests. 

“Why can’t we all just be equal and get along?” Walker asked.

He immediately proceeded to say, “Fuck n*” four times before he was muted and removed from public comment for violation of city policies.

Several speakers later took time out of their allotted three minutes for public comment to speak out against the first public comment. They said it shines a light on racist undertones that exist in Reno.

“I utterly denounce the vitriolic and traumatic and triggering language that Vance Walker opened this meeting with,” said Reena Spansail who lives in Ward 1. “It is exactly those kinds of vitriolic traumatic forces in this community that I implore this governing body to consider as they move forward.”

The meeting was held after the City unveiled murals at City Hall to honor Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery. Muralist Joe C. Rock covered over plywood installed on City Hall windows after the May 30 riots, during which rioters destroyed the first floor of City Hall and multiple windows. Councilmember Naomi Duerr said the art was the start of a much needed conversation about race relations in Reno.

Police budget questioned

Public commenters went on to criticize RPD’s budget with the City of Reno. The police department is allocated 36 percent of the City of Reno’s $210 million general fund during the fiscal year 2019/2020, the largest category of the budget.

“I’d like to remind the council, and anyone else who might be listening, that Nevada generally is at the very bottom of the country in terms of education,” commenter Madeleine Williams said. “I’d like to suggest that if there is a budget shortfall due to COVID-19, or any other reason, that that money be taken out the police, as we’ve requested many times, and be applied to those things, as opposed to further cutting our education budget in favor of keeping the police budget the same when so many of us are clearly so dissatisfied with the actions of our police.”

A young girl spoke at the meeting.

“I just wanted to address the situation about police brutality; it is a thing, it’s sad that we have to tell adults not to do these things because it harms people,” she said. “People have been going through this for over 400 years, and it’s a really deep depression. We should keep these protests up in a peaceful manner…Racial injustice needs to stop. Our voices need to be heard about this.”

Other public commenters, like Vera Miller, also spoke in support of redistributing funds from the Reno Police Department to other services.

“When we say we want the police, and all policing entities defunded, and to have all other entities cut ties from police, these funds need to be put into affordable housing and affordable healthcare, especially in the wake of COVID-19,” Miller said. “These funds need to be put towards mental health services and other community services that aren’t carceral entities. We want these police departments to be demilitarized and disarmed. They keep shooting people. We want them not to shoot people.”

Miller also denounced the actions of RPD citing unsheltered individuals who did not leave the area they were camping at after a verbal 24-hour notice from the City of Reno. 

“We are tired of the lies, excuses and abuse on our communities, including our houseless neighbors, who cops were handing out citations to left and right, just this week,” Miller said. “It’s time to defund the police and put funding into other solutions that aren’t carceral entities. I can imagine a world without RPD and SPD (Sparks Police Department).”

Bomb threats

Two speakers alleged that they planted bombs in Reno City Hall.

“Listen to what I’m about to say. If you mute me, there will be trouble. I planted seven bombs in your city council. My men have planted them. I know where you are,” one speaker said.

The speaker was cut off and muted by Vice Mayor Devon Reese. 

Reese later told This Is Reno that several city council members were in the building because they were experiencing technical difficulties while trying to work remotely and had to leave. 

This Is Reno’s Don Dike Anukam was outside of City Hall. He reported that there was a police presence while the threats occurred. 

Reese said nothing like this has happened before, and that public comment via Zoom is also something new.

“Democracy is messy,” he said. 

Reese added that steps will be taken with the City and law enforcement to ensure that it does not happen again. 

During the second section of public comment, Councilmember Neoma Jardon spoke first.

“I won’t speak as a council member, but as a public commenter that clearly we’re going to have to look at how this live public comment is delivered,” Jardon said. “We can’t have what happened at the beginning of this meeting happen again. I would like to put on a future agenda, or ask the manager, and the mayor, how to prevent the vulgarities and the bomb threats from occurring again.”

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve was not present at the meeting.

RPD did not respond for comment on the level of threat at Reno City Hall.

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