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Activists Say Police Reform Bill To Ban Chokeholds In Nevada Isn’t Enough

A sign on the ground that says, "Ban Chokeholds," covered in spotted shade from a tree.
Ty C. O’Neil
This Is Reno / Nevada News
A sign at a Black Lives Matter protest in Carson City, Nev., on July 11, 2020.

Black Lives Matter protests have erupted across the country, and in Nevada, and with them, demands for police reform. In response, lawmakers in Nevada have approved a bill meant to change how law enforcement officers in the state handle arrests, but activists say there’s more to be done.

Wesley Juhl used to be a crime and police reporter for the Las Vegas Review Journal. Juhl covered the death of Tashii Brown who was tased, beaten and choked to death by a Las Vegas police officer in 2017.

“I will never forget the way members of his family spoke of him, with such love, or the sorrow that I've seen roll off of his mother in palpable waves," Juhl said. 

Juhl’s coverage affected him so much, he had to find a new line of work.

“I literally changed careers because of it," Juhl said. 

Juhl now works for the ACLU of Nevada, which has been pushing for stronger policing reform in recent years, especially after the most recent killing of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died while a white police officer knelt on his neck. Floyd’s death sparked national outrage and protests, forcing policymakers around the country to reevaluate what actions law enforcement can take when making an arrest.

That includes Nevada, where lawmakers are using the 32nd Special Legislative Session to take up Assembly Bill 3 meant to address police reform.

AB3 bans excessive use of force, the use of chokeholds or any move that restricts a person’s ability to breathe. Instead, it only allows officers to use, "the amount of reasonable force necessary," to apprehend someone. Officers are currently authorized to use, “all means necessary.”

A woman in a mask and bright yellow blazer looks at the camera. There are several men out of focus behind her.
Credit David Calvert / Nevada Independent
Nevada Independent
State Senator Marcia Washington on Friday, July 31, 2020 during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City.

The measure also requires officers to intervene and report if they see another officer using excessive force.

Democratic Senator Marcia Washington (D-Las Vegas) says the issue is personal for her.

"I've had some sheer concerns for my family because of some of the things that have occurred with the police," Washington said, "I have 10 grandchildren, five girls, and five boys, and every time they leave the house, I have a concern. I know some people can't comprehend that, but it's real.”

The bill gained wide support in public comment from various groups, including Black Lives Matter activists, such as Lilith Baran from Reno. While she appreciates the bill, she said it doesn’t do enough to address the violence that communities of color and people with mental illnesses often experience when dealing with police.

A woman in a mask, sunglasses and an orange vests holds a bullhorn megaphone. Someone is holding a bright green sign behind her that says, "BLM."
Credit Isaac Hoops / This Is Reno
This Is Reno
Black Lives Matter activist Lilith Baran at a protest in front of Sweet Tahoe Time, in Kings Beach, Calif., on July 21, 2020, after the owner made violent comments about Black Lives Matter protestors online.

“I am not completely comfortable that this bill is going to abolish that kind of violence, and I would like some more work to be done. However, right now, I would like to congratulate you for taking this small step forward," Baran said. 

The measure left the law enforcement community divided.

Some agencies, including the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, backed the bill, but others condemned it.

Scott Nicholas, is with the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, a union that represents active and retired police and corrections officers. He said the focus should instead be on educating the public on the dangers of resisting arrest.

“I’ve never watched a video of a compliant person being handcuffed that died from a police encounter," Nicholas said, "Why is it that suspects that die in police custody always end up on the ground prior to their death? The answer is simple: They resisted arrest. Let's start by educating the public with the new saying and spread the word about how, 'Compliance saves lives.'”

Sydney Williams is a high school student in Douglas County who also provided public comment. She explained that it should be eye-opening that the bill is even needed, and she wants to see more change.

"The need for this bill proves that our system is broken. People of color fear for their lives during encounters with officers. We need you all to recognize and fix this," Williams said, "I support the efforts to hold police accountable for their actions. Yet, there needs to be consequences, including the termination of an officer who violates the public's trust."

Ultimately, the bill received bipartisan support in both chambers.

AB3 is now headed to Governor Steve Sisolak for his approval. If signed, it’ll go into effect immediately.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

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Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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