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Black Lives Matter Activists: 'We Just Want To Wake Reno Up'

Marcus Lavergne

Protestors took to the streets of Reno on Friday to express frustration, sadness and disbelief over recent police shootings that have shocked the country. Local activists hope the Black Lives Matter march is just the beginning of a conversation on issues of race and policing in the community.

Holding hand-painted signs and large banners, protestors peacefully marched down Virginia Street from the Reno Arch to City Hall chanting, clapping and filming with their smartphones. 

A counter-protestor confronts a woman during a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Reno on July 15, 2016.

  The turnout was smaller than expected — about 250 people showed up out of 700 who RSVP'd on Facebook— but no less vocal, even attracting a few counter-protestors. 

For Tammy Hayes, who moved to Reno from Las Vegas a year ago, the Black Lives Matter movement is personal. 

"Me being a mother of five black young men, I had to come out and show support because I pray for them on a daily basis, that something tragic like that doesn't happen to them," she says.  

The march was the culmination of a week in which Reno activists, community leaders and online commenters weighed in on recent police shootings of two black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge.

A few days a later, during a protest in Dallas over those shootings, a lone sniper killed five police officers, further dividing the country.

Credit Marcus Lavergne

"The main thing I want to put out there to Reno is that we do have a problem, it's a silent problem, but we do have a problem," says activist Talicia Beck.

Beck is one of those spearheading the local Black Lives Matter movement. She says after living in Oakland, she was disappointed that Reno, whose population is 75 percent white, wasn't engaging with the issue. 

"And I think now is the time to take a stand and make it known that we are against police brutality," she says. "We're not for violence. We just want to bring people together and wake Reno up."

Friday's march was peaceful, with no arrests, as more than two dozen uniformed police officers stood by and monitored the crowds. An earlier protest at the University of Nevada, Reno, drew about 25 people. 

Credit Julia Ritchey
A man speaks during an open forum hosted by the Reno-Spark NAACP on Thursday, July 14. About 100 people attended, including members of local law enforcement agencies.

At a packed forum Thursday night hosted by the local chapter of the NAACP, people from a variety of backgrounds shared anxieties, fears and their personal experiences with law enforcement.

"The stories that you hear are true," said Sheila Louris.

Louris, a mother of two teenage children, spoke about giving her kids "the talk" on what to do if they are pulled over by police.

"We do tell our sons if you get pulled over, hold your hands out, don't smart mouth ... those are the things we have to tell our kids when they leave the house," she said, wiping away tears. 

Louris says her experiences in Reno with law enforcement have been better than other cities, but there's still work to do.

"I don' think there's an issue, but there needs to be more diversity; I think they need more culture, outreach into my community and communities of color."

Patricia Gallimore, president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP, agrees.

Credit Marcus Lavergne
A man lights a candle at a protest over recent police shootings in the U.S. in downtown Reno.

  "With a community where you have only 10-11,000 blacks, you still have the separatism," she says. "That's why we're partnering with law enforcement, and giving them suggestions on how to address African-Americans and people of color."

Leaders of the Reno and Sparks police departments attended the forum in addition to Washoe County Sheriff Chuck Allen and Reno City Council members Naomi Duerr and David Bobzien. 

Tim Donohoe, a 21-year veteran of the Reno Police Department, says community forums do make a difference.

"What we do is we take what they say and we implement that into our policies, our procedures and our training, and that's why we're here," he says. 

For its part, Reno's police department plans to expand recruiting efforts beyond traditional sources like high schools to churches and community centers in higher minority neighborhoods. They've also overhauled their training for new recruits.

"One of the biggest changes that we have made on our department is with our training philosophies," says Donohoe. "We believe in an adult-based learning philosophy, which allows our recruits and our future police officers to think, problem solve and think through the issues at hand — whether it be on the street, speaking to our community or dealing with an intense situation."

Gallimore says the outpouring from the community in the wake of these shootings, and the number of people attending the march, shows there's an appetite for more dialogue. She says the NAACP will continue organizing forums later this year, and not just in times of tragedy.

Julia Ritchey is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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