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Race Relations Forum

Civil rights activists in Las Vegas are trying to raise awareness of racism with the city's first civil rights forum scheduled for Tuesday. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports on some of the events leading up to the forum.

SOUND: Casino

PLASKON: Casinos see dollar signs, not skin color. Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman says that attitude permeates the entire city.

GOODMAN: I really believe that Las Vegas is color blind.

SOUND: Hispanic protest

PLASKON: But it's hard to deny the bright yellow anti-immigration billboards that have been popping up in town and the regular Hispanic protests that the billboards are racist. Last week African American doctors protested too against the hospitals they work for, claiming 1/3rd of black anesthesiologists are wrongfully under suspension in the city and physicians like James Tate say black doctors are being railroaded by Las Vegas hospital administrators in peer reviews.

TATE: It has taken us a while to get together and realize that black physicians who are coming under attack are not alone. There are a whole bunch of folks that have come under attack and we are not alone.

ISHMAN: There is definitely racism going on in Las Vegas, by the number of complaints I get there is no doubt in my mind.

PLASKON: Dean Ishman, Las Vegas N-double A-C-P president recorded 240 complaints of racism in the first 60 days this year. Those who are brave enough to come forward rarely present any evidence he says, but some do like Steve Ferguson.

SOUND: Birds chirping. Doorbell.

PLASKON: Ferguson's retirement dream was shattered when the picture a lynching was plastered on his door. He's been the target of drive-by racial epithets, eggs, and, a boulder with derogatory language taped to it was hurled into his back yard. Someone super glued his doorknob and he says life threatening racist phone calls greet him daily in his multi-million dollar gated community. Ferguson knew what he was up against.

FERGUSON: It is a power city, of the powerful of the wealthy so they think they can try to hush it up with their money or try to railroad people out and then control the press."

PLASKON: The NAACP asked for governor Kenny Guinn's to act as a mediator because he has an interest in the Southern Highlands Golf Course, his name is attached to an annual fundraiser there. His golf locker is also right next to Ferguson's

ISHMAN: But I have yet to get a response from the governor and it saddens me because I see him there at a fundraiser for himself right in the midst of the Southern Highlands group there.

PLASKON: When Ferguson and the NAACP sued the club national press did take notice however and Ishman started to get some feedback.

ISHMAN: There are allegations now because of this that there are further incidents going on at Southern Highlands. So the answer to your question is yes, this is to raise awareness.

PLASKON: Now he is trying to keep the momentum going running a civil rights forum this week with eight local civil rights groups.

ISHMAN: We are going to stand Las Vegas up on its ears and we are going to make people look inside themselves. Many people don't understand racism and I mean white people.

PLASKON: One of those people, a local TV weatherman got an early lesson this year included a racial epithet in a live report of the Martin Luther King Day forcast. Under pressure from the NAACP he apologized and was fired, a strong message to the city. That's not the only indication of growing sensitivity to race in Las Vegas. Three years ago MGM-Mirage started the first voluntary diversity campaign that encompasses every critical operation - since then the program has become an award-winning model. That program came about because of increased awareness of racism. That's what the NAACP hopes to do for the rest of the city tomorrow, increase awareness. The first Civil Rights Forum will include testimony directly from victims.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9, KNPR

The Las Vegas civil rights forum will take place Tuesday, May 24th in the Clark County Commission Chambers from 6-9 pm. For more information, call 638-1300.