Rally Organizer: 'This Time Feels Different'
Stretch Sanders spearheaded the June 5 rally and prayer vigil titled, "We Deserve to Live" at Kianga Isoke Palacio (formerly known as Doolittle) Park in Las Vegas' historic West Side. It was the largest of the local rallies held since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Sanders, who, as youth pastor at Greater Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church goes by "Minister Stretch," said he was surprised at the number who attended the rally, which some news outlets put at 6,000.
“I was really shocked because historically in Las Vegas we don’t gather," he told KNPR's State of Nevada. "We don’t gather that large. Large to Vegas is 1,200. Even with the unions, when they do a Culinary Union strike they may get 2,000, but 6,000 at a rally in the hood, in historic West Side of Las Vegas, was unheard of. That may never happen again.”
Sanders has been a social justice protester and organizer for six years, but he says he's never had that many people at any of his events.
The minister's activism started around the time of Michael Brown's death in 2014. Police shot and killed Brown in Missouri. Sanders said he saw protesters in other cities blocking traffic and decided it was time to do more.
“I got two choices: I can keep being a Facebook activist, or I can actually get out there," he said. "It was a struggle at first because Vegas is not an activism city."
It took him some time to find people to connect with, but after going to a rally to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he was hooked; that event lit a fire underneath him.
After all the work he's done and the rallies he's attended since 2014, Sanders said this current movement is different.
“This time feels different because this is the first time where the whole city is starting to really say, ‘Hey, this is a problem,'” he said.
It's also new to see state and local leaders speaking out in support. He feels the whole community is rising up this time.
“I feel like it’s time. The bible says for every season and purpose there’s time under the heavens. So, everything takes time," he said, "I just believe that the work we’ve been doing for the last four-plus years, we’re starting to see some of those seeds really ... come to fruition.”
The minister is excited by the involvement of all kinds of people and believes if that energy can be maintained, real change can happen. One change he would like to see is a bill that would make police accountable for misconduct. He is asking everyone to call, email, tweet, or otherwise contact Gov. Steve Sisolak about a proposal for police accountability.
Sanders said it's based on the acronym FACC, for fire, arrest, charge, and convict, which is what he and others would like to see happen to police who cross the line. The specifics of the bill have not been hammered out yet, Sanders said, but he would like politicians to support it, instead of just falling back on symbolic support of Black Lives Matter.
"I don’t want to see you kneeling. I don’t want to march with the police," he said. "That’s all symbols with no substance. Real substance is saying, ‘Hey, black lives matter and here’s the law to prove it.’”
Sanders said he appreciates the words of Gov. Sisolak and other politicians, but it's time for action not another photo opp.
“Show me we matter by actually giving us something that’s systemic, because racism is systemic," he said, "We need legislation. Like Dr. King said, legislation can’t make people love you, but legislation can definitely keep someone from shooting you in the back and hitting you upside with a billy club.”
While Sanders wants action from lawmakers, he's not interested in meeting or talking with police about changes at this point.
“When people say, ‘We need to work with the police,’ I think that’s like telling a rape victim she needs to be friends with her rapist. That’s a lot of nerve, and it just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Sanders said he has been invited several times to have discussions with law enforcement but has declined.
“My thing is, when you do that, once again you cater to them. It’s not about them. They should be figuring out ways they can change. We don’t have to change together. Y’all the ones in the wrong,” he said.
He said the Black Lives Matter movement started in the wake of killings like Trayvon Martin, who was shot by George Zimmerman in 2012. Every time he's tried to talk to police about social justice issues, he said, he's been met with comments like "Metro is different," or "We're not Minneapolis."
He has never heard them say: "You're right," "We messed up," or What can we do to change?"
“Let’s be honest. Let’s be truthful. Every police department has its struggles. The best thing they can do is, don’t try to plead your case now,” he said. “The best thing police can do is clean up your own backyard. Don’t invite me to clean up the backyard, when I didn’t dirty it.”
The minister pointed to the words of Malcolm X, who said that progress is not pulling a knife out three inches when it's in nine inches. Progress is removing the knife and healing the wound.
"American doesn’t even want to admit the wound is there," he said.
Sanders did note that more white people are speaking out about Black Lives Matter this time around.
“We just need white folks to continue to understand that this fight we didn’t create, because the police fight is really part of white supremacy, and the same thing we want to cops to do, white people need to do, which is just use your platform to dismantle what you benefit from,” he said.
He wants white people to be honest, be vocal and stand with people of color.
Vance "Minister Stretch" Sanders, president, All Shades United