Black Lives Matter Organizes Las Vegas Protest Over Unarmed Man’s Death, Case Echoes Venetian Chokehold Fatality in 2017

Posted on: May 29, 2020, 12:23h. 

Last updated on: May 30, 2020, 02:29h.

UPDATE: What began as a peaceful protest in Las Vegas over the death of George Floyd turned violent Friday evening leading police to make 80 arrests and left 12 officers injured, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Metropolitan police Capt. Dori Koren said some of those arrested may have been outside agitators. At about 8:30 pm, some 150 protesters were pressed down Flamingo Road by multiple officers wearing riot gear, the Review-Journal reported.  Police are trying to ensure non-violent protesters are given the right to have their voices heard, Koren said.

Activist group Black Lives Matter plans to hold a protest Friday afternoon on the Las Vegas Strip in connection with this week’s death of George Floyd. The unarmed, handcuffed black man was in police custody in Minneapolis when he died. Monday’s death has sparked both violent and peaceful protests nationwide.

George Floyd Protests Echo The Venetian protest 2017
Protesters gathered in 2017 outside The Venetian when an unarmed black man died after a Las Vegas police officer applied a chokehold. A protest is planned for Friday, May 29 to protest the death of George Floyd. (Image: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Organizers plan to start the demonstration at 2 p.m. outside of Miracle Mile Shops, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. They may continue to march along The Strip.

The organizers already held a relatively small protest in Las Vegas Thursday night. It was believed to have been peaceful, local TV station KXNT reported.

Nationwide outrage has followed the release of a video which shows a Minneapolis police officer placing a knee on Floyd’s neck for about seven minutes, as Floyd told the officers present that he could not breathe.

Each of the four officers present at the incident were fired. The officer seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, was arrested mid-day Friday. CNN reported he was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The delay in making an arrest fueled anger in Minneapolis and around the world, and on Thursday night, protesters broke into a Minneapolis police station and set the building on fire. Other buildings in the city were also torched and stores were looted.

Floyd was initially approached by officers in connection with a possibly counterfeit $20 bill that was presented in a store near the incident.

Las Vegas Also Has ‘Inequality Issues’

When asked for comment, Frank Rudy Cooper, William S. Boyd Professor of Law and Director, Program on Race, Gender, and Policing, at UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law, told, “Businesses, including gaming, benefit from peace, and there cannot be real peace without justice.

“The underlying issues that people are protesting are gravely important to the future of the United States of America,” Cooper explained. “We are at a cusp where we can become a more egalitarian society, or go back toward Jim Crow. George Floyd and the other people of color killed these past two weeks serve as reminders that our society is not fully equal.”

Las Vegas also has “inequality issues simmering under the surface, and those must be addressed,” Cooper said. “The [planned] Las Vegas protest is required because this is a national issue. I hope the protests will be peaceful, powerful, and listened to,” Cooper added.

The protest is scheduled even though The Strip has virtually no tourists because of casino closures caused by COVID-19. Casinos will start to reopen next Thursday, June 4.

Tashii Brown Venetian Death in 2017

Las Vegas has had its own share of controversial incidents involving local officers and minorities. In May 2017, Tashii Farmer Brown died after a Las Vegas Metropolitan police officer used a chokehold on the unarmed black man outside of The Venetian casino on the Strip.

The officer, Kenneth Lopera, chased after Brown in a confrontation that began in the resort casino. While outside, the officer shocked Brown seven times with a stun gun, repeatedly punched him, and applied the chokehold for more than a minute, The New York Times reported in 2017.

Lopera was later arrested in connection with the death. A grand jury chose not to indict him in 2018, and prosecutors dropped charges, according to the Associated Press.

The Clark County Coroner’s Office ruled Brown’s death a homicide caused by asphyxiation from the chokehold. He had taken methamphetamine before the incident and had an enlarged heart, too, which the coroner said were contributing factors in the death. That incident also led to protests.

More generally, there was also public criticism after the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. It led to the death of 58 people at an open-air music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.

Gunman Stephen Paddock killed himself before police officers entered his 32nd-floor suite at the Mandalay Bay. Las Vegas police later fired Cordell Hendrex, an officer, who froze in a hallway of the hotel, one floor below Paddock’s suite. Other officers were disciplined for turning off or failing to activate body-worn video cameras.

Meanwhile, Minnesota’s Grand Casino Mille Lacs — which is about 86 miles from Minneapolis, where the recent incident took place — and Grand Casino Hinckley, located about 81 miles from Minneapolis — will be opening on Monday, June 1, with health and safety measures in place. As of Friday, the reopening was not delayed by the death and protests in Minneapolis.

Owned by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, the two locations will resume some operations at 9 a.m. Monday.