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Reno police called on activists trying to speak at city meeting

By Bob Conrad

Police were called on housing advocates who went on Wednesday to Reno City Hall to speak during a planning commission meeting, according to the group that said they were initially denied entry into the meeting by city-hired security. 

A security guard then said he was going to call the police.

About five Reno police officers arrived soon after and sat outside council chambers for the duration of the meeting. City Manager Doug Thornley said police were there because of a planned demonstration outside the meeting.

“The downtown enforcement team was in the area to assure that the planned demonstration was allowed to proceed safely. Usually we have some idea when public comment will be remarkably active–when more folks than anticipated show up we bring over additional security,” he said. “That’s true regardless of issue or group.”

The group on Wednesday said it was an attempt to intimidate them.

“It was very inappropriate that RPD was called when we came here,” Jessica Castro told the planning commission.

Lily Baran, who is a city-registered lobbyist for the ACLU of Nevada, said she went to the planning commission meeting to speak as a citizen, not for the ACLU. She said she wanted to encourage commission members to put greater effort into creating more low-income housing.

Baran, who is Black, said the police call was racist because the group comprised people of color.

“I know very well how absolutely racist and inappropriate it is to be threatened to call the police when a lobbyist walks in the building to give a public comment,” she said during the meeting. “I’ve never been so angry in this room and I come here angry all the time.”

Image courtesy of Lily Baran.

The city’s artist-in-residence, Ruby Barrientos, was part of the group who spoke during the meeting’s second public comment period. Her work is on display at city hall.

“For me, being the city artist means that I need to use this platform to bring light to what’s happening in our city,” she said. “The affordable housing that is not happening needs to happen. It’s so hard for me to see people on the street with no place to sleep [and] no food. You guys are so out of touch with your community.”

Thornley said heated exchanges during public comment have prompted more police at city meetings.

“A few weeks ago we had a planning commission meeting where public comment turned aggressive and a fist fight nearly broke out,” he told This Is Reno. “As a result of that meeting, a police officer was supposed to attend every [planning commission] meeting moving forward as part of the ordinary security protocol.”

A Nov. 3 planning commission meeting had a number of residents speaking against a development near Evans Canyon. The commission chair threatened to have a citizen removed from the meeting after the citizen repeatedly interrupted city staff.

Wednesday’s commission meeting was sparsely attended in comparison.

“I have never experienced such direct racism at this level in this building and that’s saying a lot. If the police were called for a group of us coming to the polls it would be open voter suppression,” Baran posted online after the incident. “So what is it called now?”

The group were some of the same whom the city took to court this past summer for protesting at City Plaza. Reno police issued them citations for camping at a city park. The activists said they were protesting what they called the city’s antagonistic approach toward people experiencing homelessness.

They fought the citations with support from the ACLU. The city dropped the charges against them just after their trial had started and after the ACLU subpoenaed Thornley, Mayor Hillary Schieve and Reno Police Chief Jason Soto.

The Reno City Attorney said the dropped charges were conditioned upon the group agreeing not to sue the city for civil rights violations.

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