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An open letter to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Las Vegas Raiders, the Las Vegas Aces, the Las Vegas Lights and the Las Vegas community

Cover photo: A group photo made up the Joseph Justin family and of those directly impacted by police violence and organizers from the Justice for Joseph Justin Press Conference on August 22, 2020. The press conference was in commemoration of the 13th year anniversary of the police murder of Joseph Justin and attended by multiple families and survivors impacted by LVMPD brutality. Unfortunately, the media that participated chose not to air the story. Marginalization from mainstream media is all too familiar for those impacted by police violence. Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Nissa Tzun

Dear Vegas Golden Knights, Las Vegas Raiders, Las Vegas Aces, Las Vegas Lights and the Las Vegas Community,

The undersigned organizations represent people who share the Vegas Golden Knights, Las Vegas Raiders, Las Vegas Aces, and Las Vegas Lights' dedication to ending racism and police violence. In response to the continued racist and state-sponsored assaults against those who call out police violence, we write to thank you for following the legacy of revolutionary athletes such as Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, Juan Carlos, and Colin Kaepernick in taking an affirmative stance for justice in policing. Words cannot express the positive impact that teams like yours have when they utilize their platform to speak out for justice because the media, corporations, and law enforcement continually ignore our stories and exclude survivors from meetings. We cannot end systemic racism without centering directly impacted people in decision making.

Amid the global pandemic, the uprising against racism and state violence has heightened. The world has not ignored the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, or the shooting of Jacob Blake, who is now paralyzed and fighting for his life. While we lift their names in solidarity, we must remember the fight at home. We’re asking for help to amplify the stories of local cases to help educate and galvanize our community.

Making a grassroots impact in our local community requires a coalition effort. We of the Las Vegas community, would like to express our gratitude and enthusiasm for our local athletes and sports teams for their bravery and courage to stand up and be on the right side of history.

Nevada law protects police from being held accountable for misconduct in all forms, including murder. Weak state laws on body camera evidence, high fees to obtain such evidence, and the lack of statewide procedures for discovery in criminal cases allow law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies to tamper with and withhold critical evidence from victims of police violence, their families, and the public. Criminal proceedings are initiated by prosecutors, who are the chief law enforcement officers of the county; judges, who are often former prosecutors or receive campaign donations from police unions; and police, who are viewed by jurors as the “most credible” witnesses. Thus, in the unlikely event that a police killing goes to trial, law enforcement controls much of the courtroom. Moreover, qualified immunity protects police officers and agencies from being held civilly liable to victims for violence and misconduct committed while on duty. In this context, police unions like the one led by Steve Grammas are the political extension of the “thin blue line.” The police union funds legislative and judicial campaigns, lobbies for legislation, sends representatives to town halls, and successfully pressures the legal system and public opinion from every vantage point to protect its members. Standing up to the union and working toward justice requires action, including speaking out against injustice, especially by influential members of our community like our beloved local athletes and athletic teams.

Finally, we hope to strengthen our relationship as allies and request to meet with you to discuss how we can work together to change laws and unjust policing practices .. We also ask that you view the attached video and utilize your social media platform to share the stories of people impacted by police violence locally. We look forward to working with you to lift up the voices of families that the system and law enforcement representatives have ignored.

Sincerely,

Families United 4 Justice Las Vegas

Forced Trajectory Project

ACLU of Nevada

Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada

Nevada Coalition of Accomplished Teaching

Mass Liberation Project

Policing and Protest Clinic, William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV

Black Lives Matter UNLV

No Racism in Schools #1865

The Lab LV

My Scars Are Beautiful

Battle Born Progress

Desert Arts Action Coalition

Sarah K. Hawkins, President, Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice

National Lawyers Guild, Las Vegas

National Lawyers Guild, William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV

Minister Stretch Sanders, New Era Las Vegas

Food Not Bombs Las Vegas

Nevadans for Palestinian Human Rights

Jewish Voice for Peace Las Vegas

To view individual organizational statements please scroll down:

Families United 4 Justice Las Vegas

On behalf of Families United 4 Justice Las Vegas, which represents OVER 20 families of police homicides and survivors of police misconduct locally, we appreciate and fully support these local sports teams in their stance against racial injustice and police violence. This has been a large problem in the community for some time and we couldn’t be happier to see that others are finally speaking out. Our family members have been unjustifiably assaulted, harassed, choked, shot and had their last breath taken by the hands of LVMPD with zero accountability. Our group is committed to bringing change so other families don’t have to experience the tragedies that we’ve experienced. However, our group and surviving family members have NEVER been asked to participate in discussions with any major business organizations, sports teams or law enforcement agencies. Families United 4 Justice Las Vegas knows first-hand the challenges, struggles and problems that surround LVMPD in regard to the lack of accountability/transparency. We ask to be involved, to help make necessary changes, to work together with the local community to make Las Vegas a better, safer place. Please visit Forced Trajectory Project for more information on specific cases, ways to help and getting in touch with the affected families.

- Eric Farah, Families United 4 Justice Las Vegas and brother of LVMPD homicide victim Nicholas Farah, killed on March 31, 2019

Forced Trajectory Project

To the Las Vegas Community, Vegas Golden Knights, Las Vegas Raiders, Las Vegas Aces, and Las Vegas Lights:

My name is Nissa Tzun and I am the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Forced Trajectory Project, a media, public relations and advocacy organization focused on illuminating the experiences of those directly impacted by police excessive-use-of-force here in the Las Vegas Valley and nationwide, established in 2009.

The letter mainly addressed the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which has left Blake paralyzed and fighting for his life. While the details of the case are still emerging, what cannot be argued is that Jacob Blake was shot in the back, in front of his children. What also cannot be denied is that Jacob Blake is a Black man - making him a likely target for police which has been shown in multiple evidence-based research, and supported by historical facts when one studies and understands the history and root of American policing.

The African American community, which makes up only 13% of the population but constitutes one third of police homicide victims, has undoubtedly been at the brunt of police violence for centuries. Countless testimonies from the Black community of all demographics - young, old, and all genders, spanning over several decades and generations display over and over again the racist and deadly practices of American policing and the U.S. government, which is undeniably intertwined with the culture of lynching, the culture of slavery, and the genocide of Native Americans.

What is not addressed in the communication from Grammas is the mounting injustices committed by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the organization he leads, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association (LVPPA), a powerful police union that has positioned itself over the decades making it near impossible to prosecute police who do crimes by lobbying for the increase of police secrecy and police power, with little if any resistance from the Nevada State Legislature, made up of several elected officials who publicly endorse the LVPPA.

To date, no on-duty officer has been prosecuted for taking the life of a civilian in the last thirty years in Las Vegas, yet the LVMPD has killed hundreds of our community members. Many of these victims include cases extremely similar to the case of Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other cases that have captured the attention of national media.

To bring light to a few of these cases:

-On August 22, 2007, Joseph Justin was identified as a burglary suspect and shot in the back by now-Captain Nichole Splinter, and former officer Timothy Nicothodes. Despite eyewitnesses declaring they never saw a gun in Justin’s hands, Splinter and Nicothodes shot Justin stating that he held a gun to his temple and then pointed it at Splinter. Facing no charges or repercussions, Splinter currently oversees the Office of Internal Oversight and Constitutional Policing, which handles the internal investigations of police homicides. After killing Justin, Nicothodes went on to be convicted of a DUI in Montana in 2012, and received domestic violence charges in Colorado in 2015, and was able to secure a medical retirement paid for by Las Vegas taxpayers.

-On July 14, 2011, Alma Chavez called 911 and requested the support of LVMPD’s Crisis Intervention Team to help with her son, Rafael Olivas, who was suffering from an emotional breakdown. According to Chavez who witnessed her son’s murder, upon arrival LVMPD did not voice any commands to Olivas and shot him, first with non-lethal rounds, then with multiple lethal rounds, killing him almost instantly. Chavez was then arrested while LVMPD searched her house without a search warrant. She was also denied witness testimony. No one was prosecuted for the murder of Olivas.

-On December 31, 2015, Keith Childress, Jr., of Phoenix, Arizona was walking in a private neighborhood in broad daylight when he was gunned down by LVMPD officers Robert Bonahan and Blake Walford. The officers claim Childress had a gun in his hand, but all he had was a cell phone. The officers were not prosecuted.

-On May 14, 2017, Tashii Farmer Brown was experiencing a mental health breakdown at the Venetian where he asked for help from LVMPD officer Kenneth Lopera. Rather than assist Brown, Lopera chased after him, tasing him seven times and punching him in the head over ten times, and then proceeded to place Brown in an unapproved martial arts chokehold for over a minute at which point Brown expired. LVMPD stated that had Brown survived he wouldn’t have been charged with any crime. Lopera was fired from the department, but Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson (who has allowed for well over 50 cases of police homicide to go unprosecuted) decided not to prosecute him.

-On March 31, 2019, Nicholas Farah was in Las Vegas for a long layover on his way home to Wisconsin after vacationing with his family. Staying at a La Quinta hotel, Farah called the police because he had just discovered that his belongings had been stolen. The officers on scene decided to arrest Farah for trespassing. Farah died by positional asphyxia, the same way George Floyd and Eric Garner were killed, when he was placed in a restraint chair at Clark County Detention Center, and had his head forcefully held down between his legs for several minutes by four LVMPD officers. Despite being ruled a homicide, no officers were charged for Farah’s death.

-In the early morning of September 5, 2019, Byron Williams was riding his bicycle when he was apprehended by LVMPD officers for allegedly not having a safety light on his bicycle, a misdemeanor crime. Williams initially ran, but then surrendered outside a nearby apartment complex. Two officers proceeded to handcuff Williams while he was face down, one with his knee pressing down into Williams’ back. Williams uttered, “I can’t breathe,” at least 17 times, but the officers dismissed his pleas for help and instead made callous remarks and jokes. Williams ended up expiring, but not before all officers on scene turned off their body cameras. As of now, no officer involved has been charged for Williams’ death, which has been ruled a homicide by the Clark County Coroner’s Office.

These cases are just a glimpse of the violence that the Las Vegas community has been subject to by LVMPD, and the LVPPA plays a large role in making sure LVMPD officers are not held liable. Last year, the LVPPA was behind the passing of SB 242, an amendment to the Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 289, the Nevada Peace Officer Bill of Rights which allows for officers to avoid prosecution by qualified immunity, and keeps officer misconduct files away from the public eye. The LVPPA also continuously intervenes in officer-involved homicide investigations, arriving at use-of-force scenes and taking the officers involved away from the scene for a 48-hour cooling period, keeping them from being questioned or tested for drugs or alcohol.

Again, what I have stated here barely scrapes the surface of the landscape of police violence and lack of transparency and accountability here in Las Vegas - but notice none of this was at all addressed in Grammas’ letter, which focused on a police-shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, avoiding completely any cases of police brutality by his own department.

We are grateful for the solidarity expressed by the Vegas Golden Knights, and the recent solidarity actions by the Las Vegas Aces, Las Vegas Raiders, and Las Vegas Lights. However, we are asking our sports team, athletes, and local community to not only give attention to the national cases, but more importantly, give attention to and learn of the local cases here in our hometown. Police violence has to be fought locally with national and global awareness. Every case of police brutality is an opportunity for the community to participate in the pursuit of justice, which if achieved will set precedents for future cases. It is upon the engagement of the community to pressure our elected officials to pass common sense and humane legislation - laws that protect the sanctity of life, and prioritizes public safety through increasing police transparency and accountability.

In solidarity with all survivors of police brutality and families impacted by police homicide, and in defense of Black and Indigenous life,

Nissa Tzun

Editor-in-Chief, Forced Trajectory Project

Nevada Coalition for Accomplished Teaching

The educators of the Nevada Coalition for Accomplished Teaching thank the Vegas Golden Knights for calling out the tragedy and injustice of the multiple shooting of Jacob Blake, the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and other instances of police violence. When these tragic incidents occur, students, and particularly students of color, are traumatized. Educators struggle to respond to these students’ anger, fear, and hurt due to the politicization of police violence by members of the community. Often our hands are tied. We stand with the Vegas Golden Knights, the Las Vegas Aces and our other local teams who show our CCSD students they care by demonstrating community leadership in their compassionate stance. Black Lives Matter.

- Elizabeth Campbell, Nevada Coalition for Accomplished Teaching

Black Lives Matter UNLV

It is with great sadness that these circumstances bring us together. However, in the depths of mourning we are reminded about the sacrety of life and the power of love. The pain from extrajudicial murders of our loved ones before their time has permeated across the nation. The pain is too great to bear and more people have begun to cry out. It is no greater time than the present to speak liberation into existence and fight for it. When generations ask “where were you,” in the fight to end the hunting of Black people, history will reveal the way in which our platforms and voices were used. Generations before us have had to face the stigma of challenging the status quo. We have witnessed this fate from abolitionists, freedom fighters, Black suffragists, and Dreamers. However, our silence will not protect us. The target remains whether it’s reading a book, sleeping in bed, going to church, running, playing, intervening, or driving.

Therefore, our generation has locked arms to challenge the silence of the people in power as an extension of violence. To be affluent and remain silent in the face of injustice for capital gain is to live without compassion. Our role models and lived experiences mold the way we see the world. Many people look to athletes as role models because of their dedication to their sport. Their endurance has pushed them past obstacles to fight for their dream and get them noticed. We are calling on the professional sports teams to utilize their platform to advocate for the most vulnerable in our community who are fighting for their dream. We would be remiss if we did not offer our local teams an opportunity to work side by side in our dream to end racism and police brutality.

Policing and Protest Clinic, William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV

Nevada law protects police from being held accountable for misconduct in all forms, including murder. Weak state laws on body camera evidence, high fees to obtain such evidence, and the lack of statewide procedures for discovery in criminal cases allow law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies to tamper with and withhold critical evidence from victims of police violence, their families, and the public. Criminal proceedings are initiated by prosecutors, who are the chief law enforcement officers of the county; judges, who are often former prosecutors or receive campaign donations from police unions; and police, who are viewed by jurors as the “most credible” witnesses. Thus, in the unlikely event that a police killing goes to trial, law enforcement controls much of the courtroom. Moreover, qualified immunity protects police officers and agencies from being held civilly liable to victims for violence and misconduct on duty. In this context, police unions like the one led by Steve Grammas are the political extension of the “thin blue line.” The police union funds legislative and judicial campaigns, lobbies for legislation, sends representatives to town halls, and successfully pressures the legal system and public opinion from every vantage point to protect its members. Standing up to the union and working toward justice requires action, including speaking out against injustice, especially by influential members of our community like our beloved local athletes and athletic teams.

- Director and Members of the Policing and Protest Clinic, William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV

Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada

We’re grateful for the Vegas Golden Knights, Las Vegas Lights, and Las Vegas Raiders following the lead of the Las Vegas Aces and other WNBA teams in standing with Black Lives Matter and denouncing police violence. It is unfortunate that a poorly written letter from the police union has received more attention than the families in Nevada who have lost loved ones to police violence and misconduct. These families are often ignored by the local press, and even as they seek justice for their families, they are often the target of harassment and gaslighting by this same union and their leadership. As they did in the wake of the October 1 shooting, Nevada’s professional sports teams are once again reaching out to a community that is hurting. As we demand justice for Jacob Blake and many others who are victims and survivors of police violence, we hope our teams will also meet with Nevada families who have experienced the same tragedies.


Battle Born Progress

We want to begin by acknowledging Jacob Blake, his family, and the countless families permanently traumatized and forever changed by the atrocity that is police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. We are so sorry that the psychological warfare waged on victims of police brutality by those in power continues and rears its heads in the most inopportune times. While Mr. William P. Foley and the Vegas Golden Knights, Las Vegas Aces, Las Vegas Lights, and Las Vegas Raiders have positioned themselves on the right side of history and chosen to stand in solidarity with victims, Steve Grammas has chosen to do the opposite, thereby perpetuating the deadly system of white supremacy and state-sanctioned violence that has claimed the lives of people in our very own community with impunity.

It could all be so simple.

We could all agree that Black Lives Matter. We could all agree that police brutality is a legitimate issue so that we can start taking real action to make our community safe for ALL of its inhabitants, but statements like Steve Grammas’s set us so far backward and stoke the fires of racism. While Grammas has chosen to draw a line in the sand, insisting that supporting a victim is turning one’s “back on law enforcement”, he’s painfully dismissive that his profession has always turned its back on the very people it was sworn to protect and serve. Steve Grammas, we challenge you to be better. We challenge you to participate in solving problems and not creating them. We challenge you to be part of the solution and stop the desperate fearmongering and cacophony of noise that is this rhetoric. To the Las Vegas Raiders, Las Vegas Lights, Las Vegas Aces, Vegas Golden Knights, and Mr. William P. Foley, keep on being on the right side of history. There are countless families grieving loved ones lost to police brutality who thank you and who are with you.

National Lawyers Guild, Las Vegas

The Las Vegas National Lawyers Guild Chapter (NLG-LV) thanks the Las Vegas Aces, the Vegas Golden Knights, the Las Vegas Lights, and the Las Vegas Raiders for speaking out against racism and police violence. The months following George Floyd’s murder have been an emotional time filled with sorrow at the ongoing suffering of America’s Black community and hope that the future will bring change. Having major and beloved cultural institutions like our nation’s professional sports organizations stand in solidarity with victims of police violence foster the possibility for structural change. The Las Vegas community hopes for your support in seeking justice for the murders of Byron Williams, Tashii Brown, Jorge Gomez, Rex Wilson, Rafael Olivas, and Joseph Justin, among countless others. We must come together as a community to convey, without ambiguity, our support for Black Lives Matter and our commitment to dismantling structures that allow police violence to continue.

The NLG-LV is dedicated to anti-racism and looks forward to advocating with and on behalf of those who have been harmed by the legal system’s unthinking and unwavering support of law enforcement, even in clear instances of misconduct and murder. We stand against Stammas’s apparent position that law enforcement’s authority should go unquestioned, its critics shouted down, or that America’s policing culture does not need fundamental changes for there to be justice for all in this country. For too long too many American communities have been treated like occupied foreign nations rather than as fellow citizens.

Aces, thank you for leading the pack and being vocal, no matter the cost, during a time when we needed you most. Golden Knights, Lights, and Raiders, we applaud you for voicing your support. The NLG-LV looks forward to joining community initiatives in supporting the victims of police violence in our hometown. We hope to see the support in the Las Vegas community in demanding justice through police accountability continue to grow.

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