NOTE: This article contains explicit language. Cover image by Ty O’Neil.
Tensions were high and tempers short during dual protests on the Capitol campus in Carson City on the Fourth of July. By appearances, one would have thought the protests were pro-Trump and Black Lives Matter events, respectively. However, the organizers, all young people, explained that the events were directly related to the Fourth of July—one in support of the holiday and the other against it.
The organizers of the pro-Fourth event were Minden residents Joe Bartlett and Skyler Scheeks.
“With everything being shut down because of COVID, we still wanted people to be proud and be able to come out and support our country—whether that means our protest or BLM’s protest down there,” Bartlett said. “We weren’t even aware they were doing a protest until today. But it’s good that both sides can be here peacefully. But, again, it’s just [about] support for law enforcement, support for Americans—and we’re just out here to show everybody the great country we live in.”
The anti-Fourth protesters have gathered for BLM protests in the capital every week for five weeks in a row.
“No parades, or nothing—it’s sad,” said Bartlett.
“And that’s why we’re out here just supporting our country, supporting our president and definitely law enforcement since they’ve had a bad shedding of light on them right now, so we’re just trying to show our support, locally and federally,” added Scheeks.
Bartlett said the turnout for their event was a lot larger than they’d expected.
“Yeah, 99.1 in Reno—we go with them and stuff,” said Scheeks. “It’s the Fox talk show station.”
“It’s just some radio station here, locally,” said Bartlett. “So, we reached out to them. Monica Jaye … broadcast it a little bit, and then it was a lot of just word-of-mouth.”
Bartlett said he was pleased that the large gathering had thus far remained peaceful and confrontation with the other group had remained only verbal.
“I was going to go down there and talk because I know whoever posted on their Facebook page said she wanted it to be peaceful,” he said. “And, you know, they should have their right to protest. Everybody’s been through some trying times. And even though we’re on different sides, we support them hopefully just as they would support us. I think Carson City and Reno and the surrounding area is an area where we can start change by both groups uniting, essentially. I think we could spark change around the world, maybe. You never know.”
“We want to reach out to the supporters that are on our side, too, you know—remain peaceful,” Scheeks added. “Come out here for the cause.”
Image gallery by Ty O’Neil.
Brittany Kindersmith, one of the organizers of the anti-Fourth protest, said she also agreed that both groups had the right to be out protesting. She explained why her group would not celebrate the Fourth of July.
“The Fourth of July was an Independence Day for white men in this country,” she said. “Women did not have any rights at that time. Black people did not have any rights at that time. They were enslaved. And then even bringing up to today, currently, we have kids in cages. We have ICE removing people straight out of their homes, away from their families. So, this day doesn’t feel free to a lot of members of our community.”
When Bartlett and Scheeks came to speak with Kindersmith and her fellow organizers, it seemed that hopes for a peaceful day might be dashed, as their compatriots shortly followed after them down Carson Street and wound up on opposite side—exchanging a volley of insults across traffic that continued throughout much of the rest of the morning.
A scuffle briefly broke out when a woman walking with a BLM sign on the side of the street where Trump supporters had gathered was assaulted by another woman who used her sign to strike and push her. Several people became involved, and police moved in to break it up. The woman who assaulted the other was not arrested.
According to Kindersmith, this kind of behavior has been common from Trump supporters during the last five weeks. She said last week Trump supporters ran up from behind her group and knocked signs out of people’s hands.
A short time later, Kindersmith broke from the crowd of protesters and headed north into the capitol campus carrying a sign and a bouquet of flowers.
The sign read, “Rest in Peace Sgt. Craig Johnson … No more murder.”
Johnson was a 15-year veteran of the Tulsa Police Department. He was shot early on the morning of June 30 after a traffic stop went wrong and later died from his injuries.
A group of people armed with pistols and AR-15s stood around the police memorial and immediately began asking Kindersmith what her intentions were as she quietly walked past them and placed the bouquet and sign at the foot of the memorial.
When she’d left, they took the sign honoring Sgt. Johnson—saying it was not appropriate—posed for photos with it and threw it away.
Back along Carson Street, the two groups of protesters had begun to comingle more, with shouting matches ensuing.
“You all want to be controlled. You are slaves to the system. Whatever the media tells you to do, you do it,” said a man on a megaphone wearing a “Hillary Clinton for Prison 2016” T-shirt. He went on to insist that the video depicting the death of George Floyd at the hands of police was a fake and that Floyd had been dead for three years.
When protesters laughed in his face, a woman in a pink Trump hat stepped up to them and screamed, “Go back to your parents’ basements.”
The man on the megaphone started up again moments later.
“You’re only worried about one person, really? One person? And you’re doing all of this?” he asked. “How many people’s lives have been ruined because of this one person? And then you go and abort all your babies.”
“You’re shameful,” another woman, also wearing pro-Trump clothing, added. “You’re going to look back on this. You’re so young and stupid.”
Despite the shouting and chanting, a few protesters from each side managed to have civil conversations. One between a young man named Alex, carrying a BLM sign, and an older man named Mike, who carried a large Nevada flag, went on for more than an hour.
“We started out by yelling at each other,” Alex said.
The pair discussed how best to create equity for Black people in America—something they both agreed was lacking.
Mike said he thought the problem was that Black communities were riddled with gangs and drugs and cited “Black-on-Black” crime.
Alex countered by asking what Mike thought caused the drugs and gangs to flourish in Black neighborhoods. Eventually, the two came around to discussing ideas of how to invest more and better resources into Black communities.
Just a few feet away, a young woman and an older woman from the two opposing sides never got past a screaming match.
“We’re not saying that white lives don’t matter,” the young woman said.
“Yes, you are,” replied the other.
This continued back and forth until the older woman asked the younger why she would not say “All lives matter.”
“Because white people aren’t the people getting killed in the streets by police officers,” she responded.
This was met with the response, “Last year there were 19 white people killed by officers. And there was only, like, seven blacks. So tell me whites aren’t getting killed? Don’t give that shit.”
These numbers are incorrect. In 2019, police officers shot and killed 370 white people and 235 Black people. Black people represent less than 13 percent of the population in the U.S yet accounted for nearly a quarter of police killings that year. Evidence shows that Blacks are more likely than whites to die at the hands of police.
This type of scene was repeated until shortly after noon, when the anti-Fourth protesters gathered around a speaker and took a knee as the national anthem played. Afterward, they moved farther south to a grassy area in front of the Legislature to listen to demonstrators speak.
“We’re not here to change their minds”
The first was a biracial woman named Imane Williams.
“I am 23, born and raised in Reno all my life,” Williams said. “I really struggled to find the right words to say because I know if I had my hair straight and my mask on, I could easily pass for white. My dad is my African half, and my mom is my Hispanic.
“And I’m here today to say that silence is no longer an option. And in that silence, I don’t mean that everybody should be out here protesting, that everybody should be a social justice warrior. It’s about who we are when nobody is looking, when we see those racial injustices happening, when we hear misogynistic language or racial slurs.”
At this point, Williams was interrupted by a man carrying a large sign bearing the Christian 10 commandments who’d wandered into the crowd. He began shouting over her about how faith was the ultimate solution. People in the crowd shouted for him to be silent and let Williams speak.
“We’re not engaging with that. We are not here to change their minds. We’re here to change the minds of those who sit in that office every day,” Williams said, pointing toward the legislative chambers. “What I am here to fight for today and every day from now on is to say that wanting equality in our communities, wanting better education, wanting better treatment is not radical. It will never be radical.
“When people chant ‘All lives matter,’ it’s all lives matter but Black people. It’s all lives matter but Brown people. It’s all lives matter but the LGBT community. We are not free until all of us are free,” she said.
The next person to speak was a Black man named Will who’d come to the protest with his gun strapped to his chest.
“Please stop saying defund the police, because our police are not the problem,” he said. “Reno? Different story. You guys that come from there, you already know that. Carson City is not that place. Carson City is not full of white supremacist cops. … I moved here to feel safer as a Black man, let me just tell you that.”
Will said he’d come from California where police had punched him in the head and set dogs on him. The crowd listened to him speak for several more minutes, but he lost them pretty quickly when he said that he feels for the president.
“I don’t care who the man’s name is, who he is, what you watch on TV,” Will said.
“He’s a rapist,” cried a woman from the crowd.
“If you’re sitting there railroading a man and keeping him from doing anything besides worrying about what the people think of him, then is he going to do a good job or not?,” Will continued. “That’s elementary school—encouragement versus discouragement. So, it’s not about Trump. It’s the presidency. Stop with the Trump stuff. Respect the office of the presidency.”
Protestations from the crowd continued until Will gave up the ghost of convincing them and relinquished the megaphone, which was taken up by the anti-Fourth protest’s other organizers, Engageante Jackson
“He had some valid points, right?” she asked the crowd, which largely met the question with silence. “I mean, we can’t discount that—but to respect the seat of the president when we know he’s a rapist, we know he’s racist. … Listen, if it was anybody standing out here—regardless of position—would you respect that person? If there was a rapist standing out here right now, would you guys support that person? You wouldn’t. It’s plain to see. So why would we respect the president? We’re condemning the president because we do not think he’s fit for America, fit to be in that position. It’s our values. And our values as Americans are freedom, liberty, justice for all.”
Jackson asked the crowd how people could celebrate the Fourth of July while immigrant children were locked in cages. She asked why Black people would celebrate the holiday when their independence was not attained until Juneteenth.
“And I don’t want to hear about how Carson City is so cool, calm and collected and everybody gets along,” Jackson continued. “I’ve been at gunpoint twice. I’ve never committed a crime, ever. I have no background. None. I’m a college student. … Every time a cop gets behind me, my chest gets tight and I start sweating because I don’t know if I’m going to get pulled over for nothing. That’s not freedom.”