As We See It

Echoes of Ferguson: Talking racial profiling in Las Vegas

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Sheila Taylor, center, holds a sign during a vigil for Michael Brown at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Carey Avenue Thursday, August 28, 2014. Brown, 18, was shot and killed by a police officer Aug. 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Congressman Steven Horsford is talking about “unanswered questions” and “grassroots organizing” to an audience inside North Las Vegas’ Pearson Community Center on a recent Thursday night.

Having attended the funeral of Michael Brown, who was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, last month, Horsford’s words echo the call to action reverberating across the country: “Whether it’s Ferguson, Missouri, Chicago, Illinois, or Las Vegas, Nevada, it’s our responsibility to have this dialogue,” he tells the gathering of neighbors, friends, families and students at the “One House” Town Hall: Know Your Rights meeting. “It is time to have an honest, open discussion of racial profiling.”

The landscape of racial profiling in Las Vegas is painted through personal narratives and statistics: A pastor’s wife talks about needing to change her son’s car because he’d been pulled over so many times by the police; the first time it happened he was returning from a wrestling match and waving his arms to music in his car (the police said that he was brandishing a weapon). A UNLV student talks about the degradation and embarrassment of multiple squad cars during several police stops where there is rarely a citation or ticket, wondering aloud, “Should a young African American male get used to this” simply for fitting a physical stereotype?

And though a chunk of the discussion—presented by the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Bar Association—is dedicated to this year’s Department of Justice report on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Metro’s accountability, the evening’s takeaway is how to behave in a way that halts escalation when approached by an officer, regardless of that officer’s integrity, relying on the justice system to handle it later.

As Metro Captain William Scott explains, “It is unfortunate, but it is a reality that as African American parents we have to teach our kids how to interact with the police. The goal of all of this is to make sure that we go home alive.”

Tags: Opinion
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