Las Vegas, NV - On Saturday, July 11, 2020, Black Lives Matter UNLV hosted an exhibit at Nevada Partners showcasing protest signs, art, and performance-- drawing from recent anti-police violence protests in Las Vegas. In the wake George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis Police in late May, thousands of infuriated protesters took to the streets to express their frustrations with disproportionate police brutality against Black Americans. Both in the U.S. and abroad, spontaneous marches, rallies, and rebellions were met with a militarized, aggressive police response.
In Las Vegas alone, hundreds of individuals were arrested in one weekend. Jameelah Lewis of Black Lives Matter UNLV was one of eighty protesters arrested on Friday, May 29. She was shoved to the ground by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police before being arrested and detained for 14 hours. Her story was not unique that night, and this incident became the inspiration for The Blackout: A Cultural Exploration of The People’s Uprising.
“One of the cops who tackled me told me 'Fxxk your sign,' and stepped on it. That sign had been with me for years and it was being destroyed right in front of me,” says Lewis.
Troubled by her experience with LVMPD, Lewis began collecting signs in hopes to preserve and recount a piece of local history from the vantage point of the people in the streets. Her vision became a reality with support from Black Lives Matter UNLV, Nevada Partners, Mass Liberation Project, NAACP, and volunteers from the community.
An art installation comprised of protest signs evokes a range of emotions and messages from anger to action.
Las Vegas, NV, July 11, 2020. Photo by Marcus Villagran
Roughly 100 people attended this event, rotating in small groups every half hour to adhere to COVID-19 social distancing protocols. One group was given an opportunity to view a room lined with posters collected from various demonstrations. Simultaneously, the other group was seated in a seperate room to watch artistic performances. Some signs read, “Say Their Names” in reference to lives lost to police homicide while others had slogans urging the state to “Defund the Police”.
Attendees sit in a conference room, spaced six feet apart from each other to observe creative performances.
July 11, 2020, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Marcus Villagran
In the performance room, audiences were shown a short film by photographer/videographer/editor Jonathan Johnson of Devoleb Media. This film compiled crowdsourced footage taken from George Floyd protests in Las Vegas and was accompanied by Billie Holiday’s haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit," activist, poet and singer-songwriter Vera Anderson belted an insightful spoken word piece entitled, Transcended, that interrogated our society’s complacency with state violence and Black death. Jam Poet and Monarch followed with an equally resonant spoken word selection ( Black! ), climaxing with each poet enumerating the names of black people killed by extrajudicial state violence.
Spoken word artists Vera Anderson, Jam Poet, Monarch. July 11, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.
Photos by Son Lee and Marcus Villagran
Violinist Brandon Summers closed out the performance segment of The Blackout with a tribute to Elijah McClain, a 23-year old black man who was killed by Aurora Colorado Police in late 2019. McClain was known for playing his violin at cat shelters. The recent national awareness of his death has inspired violin vigils around the country.
Violinist Brandon Summers performs a tribute to Elijah McClain, a victim of police homicide.
July 11, 2020, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Marcus Vilagran
Artwork was also donated by Shanice Edwards and Nevada History Museum Employee and partner Carmen. Carmen, of the Nevada History Museum notes that “the event characterizes how the future of Art, Culture and Social Justice will be perceived”. Jameelah Lewis believes that art and healing spaces are a form of resistance and plans to host more events like The Blackout in the coming months.
Jameelah Lewis interviewed by Channel 13 news KTNV at Nevada Partners. July 11, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.
Photo by Marcus Villagran