As the nation still reels from last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, we spoke with someone who’s been at the forefront of combating the forces of hate here in Nevada. As a young African-American himself, how has Rev. Stretch Sanders experienced hate in Nevada? And as a movement leader who’s worked to bring people together, what advice does he have for the rest of us?
The tragedies that served as a call to action
Growing up in Chicago, Stretch Sanders was no stranger to civil rights activism. He grew up studying the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Black Panthers. Sanders was ultimately drawn to Dr. King’s philosophy of social justice ministry as he embarked on his own journey as a civil rights activist.
At age 16, Sanders moved with his mother to Nevada. During college, Sanders was motivated to take action following the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He began to lead protests following the death of Sandra Bland in Waller County, Texas. In seeing other African-Americans fall prey to police brutality, Sanders felt compelled to do something about it.
“He had so much life in him, then they just took it away.”
– Rev. Stretch Sanders, on the loss of Tashi Farmer
Fast forward to May 2017. Las Vegas Metro Police Officer Kenneth Lopera shocked Tashi Farmer seven times, then put Farmer in a chokehold for over a minute before Farmer lost consciousness. For Sanders, “What happened to Tashi was a blatant form of racism.” Farmer was later pronounced dead.
On May 28, Sanders helped lead a protest at the Venetian casino resort, near the site of Tashi Farmer’s death. Activists engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience as they formed a human chain on Las Vegas Boulevard. A man wearing a “Make America Great Again” Trump hat then attacked the activists. “We knew what he came to do, which was to antagonize,” Sanders explained.
“We have to rise up. Anyone who does wrong must be charged.”
– Stretch Sanders
Sanders and nine other activists were arrested and placed into police vehicles. The man who attacked the activists was briefly handcuffed, then let go. The Clark County District Attorney’s office ultimately dropped charges against Sanders and eight of the other activists, while the assailant in the Trump hat was never charged.
Sanders has no regrets over the protest. Not only did it bring worldwide attention to the Tashi Farmer case, but it also resulted in the District Attorney filing manslaughter charges against Lopera in June. “We feel the officer is being charged because of what we did.”
“We need a revolution of moral values, of ethics, of love.”
– Stretch Sanders
Like other Nevadans, Sanders was surprised to see UNR student Peter Cvjetanovic leading the charge in Charlottesville last weekend. However, he was not surprised that Cvjetanovic then faced no consequences from UNR for his actions. How is it that Cvjetanovic is instantly afforded free speech protection, while Black Lives Matter activists are arrested for engaging in nonviolent action?
What can we do about it? Sanders reiterated his request at Sunday’s vigil for white Americans to “use their power to help other people”. Stretch Sanders offered some additional advice: “We need a revolution of moral values, of ethics, of love.”
Some final food for thought
During our video interview, Sanders explained in depth how he’d like his fellow Nevadans to act upon the discrimination that’s present throughout our everyday lives, from the unequal policing of our communities to the food deserts that we place our diverse working-poor communities into. For those of us who’ve been gifted with white privilege, it’s easy to ignore these subtle forms of racism that still exist in our society. Just because contemporary bigotry tends to be more insidious doesn’t make it any less dangerous.
In his activism, Stretch Sanders seeks to lead by example. Now, more than ever, we need real leadership in combating hate. Can something good come out of this horrific tragedy? As Sanders explains, that’s ultimately our decision to make.