Nevada must not miss this chance to recognize that Black lives matter

Protesters in Downtown Las Vegas in May. (Nevada Current file photo)

Thousands of Nevadans took to the streets in recent weeks to declare that Black lives matter. They marched in the Southern Nevada heat even as officials restricted the amount of water they can carry. Nevadans faced militarized police forces and braved chemical weapons, rubber bullets, curfews and immoral arrests just to make their voices heard.

And for a moment it seemed like Nevada leaders were listening. Governor Steve Sisolak even spoke out about the double standards that exist for people of color.  

Yet here we are, reeling from a special session in which the Nevada Legislature is enacting budget cuts that will disproportionately affect communities of color, individuals in need of behavioral health care, those facing unstable housing, and those living paycheck to paycheck. The extent of the damage that will be caused by these cuts cannot be understated. 

In a presentation given to the Legislature, the Department of Health and Human Services explained that cuts would result in 270 individuals in Southern Nevada being immediately displaced, the majority of whom will be left without a home. 

Cuts to school social workers and community mental health professionals will hurt the communities most in need. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed gaps in health care and education that exist clearly along racial and economic lines, and these cuts can be expected to widen these gaps. Cuts to mental health services can only add to Nevada’s mass incarceration problems. 

The state of Nevada must not miss this moment to start to show that Black lives matter. It hasn’t yet, but it can if a special session is convened to start to take on these policy issues. If nothing else, the Legislature can act on laws that enable bad behaviors by police.

The reforms that are possible in a special session may not the sweeping reimagination of policing that we hope is on the horizon, but they are meaningful, and if enacted properly, will save lives. 

The reforms the ACLU of Nevada supports will increase transparency and accountability across Nevada’s many policing agencies. The repeal of SB242 will allow Nevadans who are brutalized at the hands of police civil recourse and will empower police departments to discipline and fire bad actors. Police agencies with nothing to hide should welcome independent oversight, and independent investigations are necessary to rebuild community trust. 

The collection of policing data, including demographic and zip code data, is a good step toward a more transparent future. This data will allow for research by outside organizations, and departments will be able to use this date to increase equity in their policing practices. 

Finally, we must ban any form of restraint that restricts the flow of blood or oxygen. Nevada leaders must not hesitate to ensure that no one in our state dies at the hands of police with the words “I can’t breathe” on their lips.

The reforms that are possible in a special session will not end systemic racism and will not fully protect communities of color from the overfunded, militarized police forces that patrol our neighborhoods. But this moment calls on us all to act now. We cannot take our eyes off of those who will continue to suffer the most.

Our leaders must not fail to recognize that Black lives matter, and they must not fail to act. With all of the budget cuts and all of the sacrifices this state is asking our most vulnerable residents to make, taking action now to end police brutality seems like the least they can do.

Nicholas Shepack
Nicholas Shepack is a criminal justice fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. He lives in Reno.