GUEST COLUMN:

Emergency ordinance aims to silence Las Vegans

Black Lives Matter protests have allowed Las Vegas residents to stand in solidarity with the civil rights movement that has extended from the United States to countries around the world.

But to the detriment of these peaceful protesters and the shame of our community, local officials have undermined the First Amendment rights of local residents to protest. It happened with the Las Vegas City Council’s June 3 passage of an emergency ordinance temporarily banning the use of backpacks, coolers, fanny packs, camera bags and other items at demonstrations, rallies, protests and similar events that take place within city limits. This ordinance is set to remain in place until July 31.

While this measure may have been developed with goals for peace, it is undoubtedly problematic and ultimately does more harm than good. In efforts to ease tensions, the city council has bureaucratically muffled the voices of many dissenting Las Vegans — think parents of young children who can’t bring them because of the ban on strollers and diaper bags, and can’t find child care. In addition, protesters use backpacks and other bags to carry water, snacks and other supplies necessary for not only safety, but survival in the summer heat. Without these essentials, residents are discouraged from demonstrating.

Another disturbing aspect of the ordinance was the way it was approved. It was not on the original agenda for the meeting, but the city indicated via a short Twitter thread June 2 that it would be considered as part of the city manager’s “emerging issues” portion of the proceedings.

In a time when it is becoming increasingly clear how crucial it is to pay attention to local politics, this chain of events has worked to shine a light on the importance of transparency from city officials. The Clark County Commission also had the ordinance on its agenda for a meeting at the same time, but the agenda-posting timeline of Nevada Open Meeting Law would have ensured that the public had more time to review the bill before that meeting.

With two meetings happening at the same time and only one board of local officials giving the public access to the full extent of their agenda items with multiple days’ notice, how were residents expected to voice their concerns before action was taken? How were constituents able to engage with their representatives and allow their voices to be heard?

At the county meeting, numerous residents were able to speak to the commissioners about the ways in which the passage of the ordinance would be harmful to their peaceful protest efforts. Constituents shared stories about positive experiences they had at these demonstrations and emphasized the importance of backpacks and other bags for safe protesting.

When the city council took up this ordinance on its agenda with little notice, residents were not able to make arrangements to share their concerns. The voices of Las Vegans were not considered in the passage of the emergency ordinance.

What is the job of public servants, if not to listen to those they represent? What are their duties as local leaders, if not to consider the rights of their constituents as they raise their voices against injustice? The emergency ordinance hinders the ability of Las Vegans to protest something that fuels a fire within them and countless others.

The right to assembly is guaranteed by the First Amendment, and putting roadblocks in the way of exercising this right only works to hush voices that have already been historically and systemically silenced.

The Black Lives Matter movement is not a newfound rallying cry for equality. It is the result of centuries of oppression and brutality against our most marginalized communities. By creating a new barrier to protesting, these marginalized voices are further harmed.

Between the sneaky passage of a piece of legislation, overlapping meeting times with the county commission and the inevitable hindrance of First Amendment rights, it is hard to believe that these city officials were putting the concerns of their constituents first.

Public officials’ job is to listen louder than they speak. Local representatives job is to maintain better goals for transparency so that those they represent can speak up about these agenda items. With the city council now facing heat for its actions, it is undoubtedly possible that Las Vegans will become more engaged with local politics moving forward and remember the events of June 3 as these City Council members run for re-election.

Olivia Cheche is a third-year political science and Brookings Public Policy student at UNLV. She is also the senate president of the UNLV CSUN Student Government.