Nationwide protests since May have put a spotlight on police brutality and the ongoing struggle the Black community faces in fighting racism in the justice system. But racial inequality has never been limited to disparities in the criminal justice system and the over-policing of Black communities.
On Monday groups including Service Employees International Union Local 1107, New Era Las Vegas and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada joined labor unions and social justice groups around the country in the “Strike for Black Lives” to highlight the economic racism and exploitation of Black workers.
“Since the beginning of our nation, white supremacy and economic exploitation have been inextricably linked,” said Michael Collins, a registered nurse and union member of SEIU during the rally. “We can no longer ignore the deadly impacts of structural racism in America’s economy and democracy.”
National organizers for the Strike for Black Lives are calling for elected officials to rewrite rules to help Black communities thrive, dismantle racist systems that promote white supremacy while exploiting Black workers and implement economic policies such as a $15 minimum wage.
Rozetta Love, a home health care worker who spoke during the rally, said it is women of color working essential jobs who are often paid unlivable wages.
“As a caregiver in this field that is primarily women and women of color, we face many challenges,” she said. “Our average wage is $11, which impacts the ability to pay bills, care for your family and have affordable health care. We are the ones who provide essential services to vulnerable populations.”
Monday’s action, Love said, was about the community recognizing the structural racism behind economic exploitation of people of color.
“The system is not set up to be fair and equitable for all of us,” she said. “Today is about being with a collective group of people who are going to show up and support and work together to dismantle systemic racism and to ensure Black Lives Matter.”
Prior to the rally, people were asked not to spend money except at Black-owned businesses. In some cities, some workers also walked out of their jobs as part of the strike.
The death of George Floyd has ushered in an ongoing conversation around dismantling racist systems, which led to a wave of action in communities across the country including calls for criminal justice reforms and defunding the police.
“They said back in May this movement would be dead in six months,” said Minister Vance “Stretch” Sanders who heads New Era Las Vegas. “People said it was just a phase, but this (rally) is living proof they’re not going to be right. Next month we’re going to come out. The month after we’re going to come out. We’re going to keep the fire lit.”
Nevada joined in those calls to action highlighting local cases such as Byron Williams, who died in Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department custody September 2019 after officers attempted to stop him for a broken bicycle light. After he was arrested and pinned to the ground, Williams said “I Can’t Breathe” around 20 times.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is not just some kind of tangential thing that’s happening in other states and we have to show solidarity,” said Laura Martin, the executive director of Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “It’s happening right here.
But the conversation around racial justice is expanding beyond police reforms into other policies, such as economic policies, that affect Black life.
Activists have noted that while many elected officials have joined in saying “Black Lives Matter,” many of those same voices have still voted for policies and legislation that hurt Black communities.
“Violence isn’t just what happens with the police,” Martin added. “It also reflects itself in policy. We just got done with a special session of the Nevada Legislature where we saw really brutal cuts to programs like health care, education and the ‘Read by (Grade) Three’ program. What happens to our kids, especially our Black kids, who aren’t at the education level they are supposed to be at by a certain grade level? What plans do they have for them? We have to remember the Black Lives Matter movement is also about recognizing policy and the responsibility our elected officials have to ensure Black Lives Matter doesn’t just matter on their Twitter posts but all the time.”
Speakers also took a moment to honor the late civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who died Friday at 80.
Those remembering him spoke of his known adage that people should “cause good trouble.”
By being at the protests and part of the ongoing efforts against economic racism or reforming the justice system, they say they are carrying out Lewis’ legacy.
Martin said many elected officials will pay respect for Lewis, yet still disregard the work being done in the community to continue his civil rights legacy.
“When people honor John Lewis by saying, ‘Do good trouble,’ call them out,” Martin said. “We are doing good trouble all over Nevada and a lot of these people don’t have our back.”