“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” That was one chant shouted Friday night on the Strip between the Flamingo and the Cromwell. This Black Lives Matter protest brought a small, peaceful turnout, with roughly 30 protesters gathered to demand change within our nation’s police forces. In front, LaChel Burton sat with her grandchildren and 10-year-old son. One boy’s sign read: “When we comply, we still die. Why?”
“I have seven sons and four daughters and I’m very concerned for their well-being among white police officers,” Burton says. “All lives matter, but right now we’re focused on black lives because black lives are being killed at an alarming rate.”
If the tourist-stocked Strip is a slice of our nation at large, then the full spectrum of attitudes and opinions were on display Friday night. As protesters continued to shout, a pattern emerged. Chants of “Black lives matter” were met with hostility, and then by shouts of “All lives matter!” and then “White lives matter!” But no matter the reaction, protesters remained calm.
“We want peace, we want justice, we want community,” organizer Samantha Robinson says. “We can’t fight the police and then expect them to protect us.”
Robinson was one of many demonstrators across the country who has been moved beyond posting social media memes and hashtags to marching through the streets. “I was just like, how can I get the message out? I have a 2-year-old son ...I don’t want to have to fear anything.”
With groups across the country continuing to demonstrate—and, sadly, violence persisting, including Sunday’s shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—more people are moving beyond virtual protest and into the streets. There is a need to engage, discuss and ignite difficult but necessary conversations.
At Saturday’s Downtown demonstration, attendees spoke over loudspeakers praising the diverse turnout. Gathered at 400 Stewart Avenue, they marched to Fremont Street, under the canopy and then back to the Zappos building. As black men and women gave speeches, shared their experiences and spoke about the losses of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, other people of color delivered their sentiments in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
As participants moved through the streets yelling, “Hey hey, ho ho, racist cops have got to go!” and “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” they were met with a different tone from the night before. Drivers honked their horns in support while some stopped to take photos or raise their hands in solidarity.
For protesters like Sierra McDaniel, standing up for those who lost their lives is more important than staying silent. “I’m here today because too many times, too many casualties have happened between police officers and unarmed black people,” she says. “We have to address this and make a change so no more casualties can happen. Even one is too many.”
During the event, Stretch Sanders of activist group All Shades United stressed the importance of supporting local black-owned businesses throughout August, National Black Business Month. “This is not a moment,” he said. “This is a movement.”