As a warning, this story includes graphic images and videos containing violence that may be disturbing, along with inappropriate language.
Organizers of the Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday afternoon in Reno have denounced the violence that took place later that evening after the peaceful protest had ended.
Lucia Starbuck was on the scene reporting for This Is Reno, and witnessed the events that unfolded at City Hall. She recounted what she saw with KUNR’s Anh Gray.
Anh Gray: On Saturday, you attended the Black Lives Matter protest as a contributing reporter for This Is Reno. When did you arrive on the scene, and what did you see?
Lucia Starbuck: So, I got to the BELIEVE sign at about 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, and there were a thousand people there. There were people of all ages [and] of all races, gathered around, holding signs [and] chanting "Black Lives Matter." It was really a protest against police brutality and also the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis.
I talked to a few people who were marching because they do fear interacting with law enforcement. They want a better future for their kids. I talked to one woman, Moneisha Francis, and she told me she has four sons between her and her partner. They're all younger than five years old, but she's already having conversations with them about being aware that they are a minority and being alert when they do interact with law enforcement. Here's what she told me:
You know, before I came out here, my dad told me, "keep the peace. Don't be out there looting." I'm not here for anything bad. I'm just here because I'm tired, and I need to show my kids that this is important, and this is what we're going through, and we're not bad people. I'm not here to cause a scene. I'm here because I'm literally tired. I'm just tired.
Gray: And then, as I was following what was happening on Saturday through social media, including your Twitter account, it seemed that the protest in Reno followed a very similar pattern to others that we were seeing across the nation as well. It started off peacefully, but then it did eventually descend into violence. When did that happen and what did you see?
Starbuck: I will say, too, I think there was some tension, some fear, even in the beginning. 'Is it going to turn violent? Are people going to start rioting?' And even the organizers on bullhorns were saying, "this is peaceful. We're just going to march." So about a thousand people went from the BELIEVE sign, flooded Virginia Street, and walked down to the federal courthouse, toward the end. So I think everyone kind of wrapped up around 4:30 p.m., and most of the crowd went home after that.
I will say, about 200 people then kind of continued the march [after the organized event concluded], and I think they were joined with others as they went through downtown Reno. But it changed when the protesters got to the Reno Police Department (RPD). I talked to some police officers when I did get there, and they told me that the marchers burned down the American flag. They took off the RPD star that was on the side of the building, and the walls were completely covered in kind of anti-police graffiti, I'd say. And after that, the protestors continued throughout downtown Reno, and then they ended up at city hall.
Gray: And that's where you were on the scene, which was at City Hall. And then from what I recall that evening, you were able to get images of what happened there, so explain to me what you saw when you were there.
Starbuck: It was pretty intense. People were still fired up. They were amped up, and then basically one window got broken at city hall, and it kind of spiraled after that. I mean, people were taking baseball bats, skateboards, other rocks, and just smashing the windows and the doors of City Hall. We're taking the route where we're no longer calling these people protesters. They're more rioters at this point. With each smash, with each destruction, it amped up the crowd more. There wasn't anyone saying, "stop."
As a warning, the following videos contain violence, loud noises and inappropriate language.
— Lucia Starbuck (@luciastarbuck) May 31, 2020
Gray: And then you also filmed from that evening, an attack on your colleague, so tell me what happened there.
Starbuck: That's when the [rioters] broke in. They threw furniture outside, they threw a planter outside, and then they also brought out the Nevada flag, and they burned that, too. And that's when I found my colleague, Don Dike Anukam.
So Don, he was filming, and someone slapped his phone out of his hand. He kind of just shouted, "I'm press; I'm press." And the crowd just kind of got more angry. And then out of nowhere, they jumped Don right next to me.
Gray: And what was going through your mind at that time?
Starbuck: I was terrified. Honestly, I was so scared. I just did all I could do, which was film. I felt really powerless. And two of our photographers did jump in to try to help Don. However, police were there at that point, and they threw tear gas into the crowd, and everyone just scattered and ran in different directions. I tried interviewing one person, the first person who got shot by a rubber bullet. I don't even think we were standing there for a minute before we literally had to scatter as tear gas was coming our way.
As a warning, the following videos include physical assault, violence, loud noises and inappropriate language.
More smoke thrown pic.twitter.com/YfFfGiYnc3
— Lucia Starbuck (@luciastarbuck) May 31, 2020
Gray: So, is your colleague Don okay, after what happened?
Starbuck: He was a little roughed up. He lost his glasses. He had a bruise on his cheek, and he did go to urgent care to get checked for a concussion Sunday morning. I think I should mention, too, he's a local journalist. He lives in the area. And he's also a black man. So that's why I was also surprised that that happened. That this is kind of some spillover from the Black Lives Matter protest, and I'm watching my black coworker get beat up right next to me.
Gray: What do you want the community to learn from your reporting for that evening?
Starbuck: I think to realize that there is civil unrest in our own community, and people are in pain. And I mean, I'm sure some people are just kind of [for] violence for violence's sake [and] just kind of want to break things. But I do think there are legitimate concerns about police brutality, about fear of law enforcement in this community. And I think to take away that there were two completely different protests. One was a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, where a thousand people came to protest police brutality, came to talk about how they feel, to support black people in our community. And then, this riot. There's pain to be learned from both of these events.
This coverage is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.