Reporting: Nissa Tzun
Photos and Video: Cherry Valencia, Jordan O'Brien, Nissa Tzun, Damien Gordan and Eduardo Cabrera-Rossal
Las Vegas, NV - May 13th, Mother's Day, marked the first year anniversary for the police murder of Tashii Brown. The mother of Brown, Trinita Farmer, called for the community to come together and support her on this day. The five hour event which was attended by at least 50 people, began at the Bellagio Fountains, and resulted in numerous arrests. The event was attended also by several other mothers and family members impacted by police violence including Alma Chavez, the mother of Rafael Olivas, killed by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police (LVMPD) on July 14, 2011, Petra Wilson, the widow of Rex Wilson, killed by LVMPD on October 12, 2016, Halina Wilson, the daughter of Rex Wilson, Aaron Wilson, the son of Rex Wilson, Amber Bustillos, the fiancee of Junior Lopez, killed by LVMPD on April 6, 2018, Brenda Martinez, the mother of Junior Lopez, and Jorge Martinez, the stepfather of Junior Lopez.
Tashii Brown, a Hawaiian native and father of two, was at The Venetian Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip in the early morning of May 14th, 2017, when he suffered a mental health breakdown. When he approached the police for help, officer Kenneth Lopera began to chase him into the employee parking area. Lopera then tased Brown seven times, punched him and placed him in an unapproved chokehold. A sergeant commanded Lopera to release Brown, but Lopera refused, and took Brown's life. LVMPD stated that Brown would not have been charged with any crime had he survived.
A portrait of Tashii Brown, 40, that supporters used as a visual for Sunday's action to raise awareness about his untimely death. Courtesy of Trinita Farmer and Families United 4 Justice-Southwest
On Mother's Day, over 50 supporters joined with Trinita Farmer at the Bellagio Fountains to commemorate Tashii Brown and demand justice for his wrongful death. The highly anticipated action on the Las Vegas Strip warranted heavy surveillance by security and law enforcement. As participants arrived, several plainclothes officers and K-9 units were seen walking around. At approximately 2:45PM, a large police unit pulled up to the Bellagio Fountains and around 10 police officers in riot gear exited the unit and surrounded three Black Panther Party members who were promoting the event. Much to onlookers' surprise, the three men were immediately arrested. This happened upon Farmer's arrival which horrified her.
Black Panther Party Chairman Jay Jackson was one of five people arrested during the event. They were arrested on weapons charges for carrying nightsticks, although carrying a gun, a much more lethal weapon, is legal on the Las Vegas Strip. Two of the other Black Panther Party members have since been released, but Jackson is expected to remain in jail for another month. His bail is set at $3,000. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Cherry Valencia
Upon arrival, Trinita Farmer, the mother of Tashii Brown, witnessed the abrupt arrest of three Black Panther Party Cub members for carrying nightsticks on their backs. Her granddaughter clutches to her in fear. Witnesses were shaken up by the shear volume of police in riot gear. The event would begin with arrests and end with more. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Cherry Valencia
During the first hour of the event, supporters gathered at the Bellagio Fountains right across from the Paris Hotel Eiffel Tower. Supporters handed out flyers that included Tashii's story and other police violence narratives. Tourists stopped and watched as supporters held up signs that read, "Justice for Tashii Brown," and "Cops love to kill loved people." Representatives from Nevada Cop Block chalked the sidewalk with messages like, "Lock up Lopera," and "Happy Mother's Day to the mothers whose children were taken too soon by police terrorism." As mothers impacted by police violence arrived, some met and embraced each other for the first time.
Trinita Farmer, mother of Tashii Brown, meets and embraces Alma Chavez, mother of Rafael Olivas, who was killed by police while suffering a mental health break down on July 14, 2011. Olivas was killed in front of his mother. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Jordan O'Brien
Red roses, flyers, and portraits of police murder victims were financed by Black Lives Matter-UNLV, a student organization that co-sponsored the event. As people arrived, supporters passed out the roses and portraits to other supporters and onlookers and asked them to hold onto them for later.
150 red roses were donated by Black Lives Matter-UNLV, a student organization that co-sponsored the event. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Cherry Valencia
Mothers impacted by police violence gather at the Bellagio Fountains to share their stories. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photos by Damian Gordan, filmed and edited by Eduardo Rossal
Around 4PM, the rally began. Karintha Fenley, a family advocate with Families United 4 Justice, a nationwide coalition of families impacted by police violence, introduced the mothers who each took their turn to speak and share their story. Margie Day, Trinita Farmer's best friend, spoke on Trinita's behalf. "A year ago today she [Trinita] got woke up on Mother's Day, with the coroner come to tell her that her son was dead .. on Mother's Day. It’s one thing when your child dies from illness or something that is beyond your control but when their life is taken for absolutely no reason whatsoever it’s a hard pill to swallow and no one should have to experience that. And I just feel bad for her and every other mother that is out here that has had to has had to experience something as heinous from the people who we are supposed to trust. And we get annihilated on a daily basis. It’s not just about 'black lives matter.' People you have to wake up and understand that this is about life period. We only say black life because for some reason we seem to be expendable and it’s not right. People of Color seem to be expendable in this world. We have to wake up and understand this is about life in general, and love."
Alma Chavez, mother of Rafael Olivas, speaks at the Tashii Brown Mother's Day vigil. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun
Alma Chavez, the mother of Rafael Olivas, spoke after Margie. "I'm here supporting a new mother that has to go through the same pain I’ve been going through for seven years..Killing is not the answer. They should be better trained. They destroy families. In my case I called for help. My son was not putting anybody in danger and when they came they killed my son. I was there. I know how much it was covered [up]. And I didn’t get justice after fighting for almost 7 years. I’m here representing Rafael Olivas. My son, wrongly gunned down, July 14, 2011."
Amber Bustillos, fiancee of Junior Lopez, speaks for the first time in public about the police shooting of Lopez, that happened one month ago. They were supposed to be married on May 10. Las Vegas, NV, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun
Amber Bustillos, the fiancee of Junior Lopez, spoke next. Junior Lopez was killed on April 6 and is the last person to be killed by LVMPD. "My husband was just killed a month ago by two metro police officers, right in front of my face. It was supposed to be a traffic violation but instead I had to go home without my husband without knowing what had happened to him. I didn't know that this was a thing that happened on a daily basis until it happened to us."
Petra Wilson, widow of Rex Wilson, who was killed on October 12, 2016, poses with a portrait of her husband along with two of their nine children, Halina and Aaron Wilson. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun
Petra Wilson, the widow of Rex Wilson was the final mother to speak. Rex Wilson and her share nine children, two of which were present at the event. "When it's not your family, when it's not who you know, it's easy to criticize, and it's easy to be judgmental. But when you have children, and that's what I'm here for on Mother's Day. Because my children live this life. And my children miss their dad. And my children have to live without their dad. And I have to be a mother on my own. And I have to endure all of those items that come along with the pain and the grief and everything that you experience when you lose somebody. When you lose somebody this way, not because they had an illness, but because somebody just made the choice on that police force to make a quick decision that they were God and jury. To not have any type of closure because everybody has told you that it was a justified killing. The pain is never going to go away. You live with it everyday. The pain of your children is there everyday. You look at it in their eyes. The pain that you have to look in the mirror at, you have to shake it off and walk forward because you have no choice. I can now say that my husband was murdered. And I don't just say something else. Today I can voice that without feeling ashamed by it, because that's what they created for my family. So everybody raise your arms, show your power, show your voice, and let's march!"
After the mothers spoke, the floor was open for the public to speak. Ramsey Denison, the director of What Happened In Vegas, a documentary about police violence committed by the LVMPD, featuring several local families impacted by police violence including Trinita Farmer, spoke first, mentioning the patterns of corruption by the LVMPD he has uncovered during the making of his film.
Supporters of the families marched silently from the Bellagio Fountains to The Venetian with victims' portraits over their faces and red roses. The walk was about 25 minutes long. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun
When the rally was finished, the group prepared for a silent march to The Venetian. The families lined up in the front and held a banner that read, "We are the mothers impacted by police violence." Participants held photos of the victims in front of their faces with rose in hand while handing out flyers that explained what the march is about to onlookers they came across. The march was accompanied with one drum to set the beat for the walk. Several news channels and media outlets followed the group the entire way. When they arrived at The Venetian, participants laid down flowers at the entrance. Trinita Farmer then led the group into The Venetian, in search for where her son took his last breath.
Tourists by Caesar's Palace read the banner that reads, "We are the mothers impacted by police violence," as the group marches to The Venetian. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun
Margie Day and Trinita Farmer look up at The Venetian while about to cross the crosswalk. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun
Alma Chavez lays down her rose at the entrance of The Venetian. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Jordan O'Brien
Brenda Martinez, the mother of Junior Lopez, who was killed by LVMPD on April 6 during a traffic stop, came late and participated in the march with her husband, Jorge Martinez, stepfather of Junior Lopez. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun
The group found their way to the ground level parking lot. Despite asking several security guards about where Brown took his last breath, they were unable to find the exact location.
The event concluded with a banner display on the pedestrian walkway at Harmon Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, where several activists unfurled a banner that read, "Justice for Tashii Brown," which could be seen for several blocks on the Las Vegas Strip. While activists had called the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority ahead of time to confirm that the action was legal, within minutes, LVMPD arrived. Over six police cruisers were parked along Las Vegas Blvd, and over ten police officers swarmed the public walkway, blocking most of the pedestrian traffic. The officers ordered the activists to take the banner down, but the vinyl material was very heavy, and so the banner had to be taken down slowly.
A large 50 ft banner was unfurled at the Harmon Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard walkway reading "Justice for Tashii Brown," which could be seen for several blocks on Las Vegas Boulevard. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun
The action concluded the event and two additional people were arrested. Billie McFadden, who was one of the activists who unfurled the banner, was at first receiving a citation for blocking the public walkway with her possessions but then had to be arrested for an unpaid traffic ticket. Ron King of Nevada Cop Block who was filming the police interaction was arrested for obstructing the public walkway. Before entering the police car, King shouted, "Justice for Tashii Brown!"
Nevada Cop Block's Ron King is arrested for obstructing a public walkway while filming police activity on the Harmon Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard walkway. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun
Two activists are arrested at the conclusion of the 1st Year Anniversary Vigil for Tashii Brown. Las Vegas, NV, May 13, 2018. Film by FTP Staff
While the first year anniversary of Tashii Brown's police murder is over, Families United 4 Justice will be organizing future events in collaboration with several other local human rights organizations. Currently, Families United 4 Justice is raising funds to support local families to participate in the 2nd Annual Families United 4 Justice Network Gathering where families impacted by police violence all over the nation come together to share stories and resources, participate in relevant workshops, and organize collectively for justice. To read more about how to support, please visit: GoFundMe.com/FU4JSouthwest