Metro Police arrested 80 demonstrators on the Las Vegas Strip Friday as a crowd of about 400 rallied to demand justice for the in-custody death of a black Minnesota man by a white police officer.
The scene, with chants of “What’s his name?” and “Get your knee off my neck,” was similar to other demonstrations across the country over the past two days calling for police reform.
George Floyd died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee on his neck for almost 10 minutes as the man pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. Despite the Friday arrest of officer Derek Chauvin, who was booked on third-degree murder and manslaughter charges, the anger nationwide has intensified. Three officers who were on the scene as Floyd was brutalized have been fired and the FBI has opened an investigation.
“The death of Mr. Floyd is deeply disturbing. The officers’ actions and inaction are inconsistent with the training and protocols of our profession and (Metro),” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo wrote on Twitter. “I can assure you the (police department) will strive each day to continue to build your trust.”
Metro officials on Saturday afternoon reported that 12 officers were injured in the eight-hour protest, saying "aggressors threw rocks at police, hitting and injuring several LVMPD officers and left behind damaged property that was tagged." Police believe a small group of protesters broke off from the group.
"As police prepare for another round of possible protests on Saturday, they ask members of the public to keep demonstrations peaceful and lawful," Metro wrote in a statement.
Britney Bautista, a-15-year-old from Las Vegas holding a sign that said “Black Lives Matter,” said she attended “to get justice” for Floyd and “the people who die who shouldn’t die.”
“We all have the same blood color,” she said. “Why should skin color make a difference?”
Through social media on Thursday, Metro became aware of the planned event and reached out to organizers to offer support in expressing their First Amendment rights, Metro spokesman Officer Larry Hadfield said. The posts also gave Metro time to properly staff the Strip, he added. Another protest is expected Saturday near downtown Las Vegas.
“We are all aware of the reason that everybody is protesting. We did watch the video,” Hadfield said. “We will continue to support everybody’s constitutional rights. However, we are going to be there if any of those individuals want to be violent or break laws.”
By police accounts, the demonstration in Las Vegas began peacefully Friday afternoon. But by nightfall, water bottles and other items were being hurled at officers, who were being taunted with slurs.
The violence escalated when officers began pushing forward to make protesters move. Officials said Friday night that two officers sustained minor injuries — one officer injured his hand in an interaction with a protester; the other may have been struck by an object thrown at police, Capt. Dori Koren said. About 12 hours later, Metro increased the injured officer tally to 12.
By 8:55 p.m., after demonstrators got more unruly, Lombardo sent out another Tweet saying Metro “stands with our community and censures any police brutality. As we continue to facilitate spontaneous and planned protests, violence or property damage will not be tolerated.”
It wasn’t clear what charges the demonstrators were facing, but between 30 to 40 were being booked in jail, Koren said. Several others were cited and released.
He said those in custody were detained for mainly “violating dispersion” or “violating other laws.” Before anyone was handcuffed, they were given multiple chances to follow police orders, he said.
“It’s in our best interest for this whole city to reopen safety,” he said, referencing the coronavirus pandemic, “to get back to a strong economy and we are all in the same position to try to make that happen.”
As the night progressed, most of the demonstrators had dispersed, but the few dozen who remained defied police orders to leave. Officers in riot gear formed a line and shouted in unison, “Move back! Move back!”
When they spotted someone allegedly violating a law, a team of bike cops in yellow shirts were sent to chase after them. That didn’t stop the incensed protesters from yelling expletives, such as “piggies.”
Hadfield said some showed up with the intention to instigate instead of protest, including one man who was heard calling for the officers to be shot.
As water bottles continued to fly at police, they grew more aggressive in pushing the demonstrators south on the Strip toward Harmon Avenue. By 9:15 p.m., most participants had left.
Metro said it will release specific arrest numbers Saturday, and said officers will be ready if another protest breaks out. They were assisted by SWAT officers, Nevada Highway Patrol and North Las Vegas Police.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.