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Clark County public defenders lead rally seeking to end police brutality

Updated June 8, 2020 - 9:55 pm

About 200 people, including many public defenders, gathered in front of the Regional Justice Center on Monday evening to demand an end to police brutality.

John Piro, chief deputy public defender for the Clark County public defender’s office, said public defenders across the nation gathered in similar rallies Monday night.

“We are the ones who stand with them in the courtrooms and try to make judges see the humanity of our clients,” Piro said. “It’s important for us to say that we see you and we are here with you.”

Austin Barnum, a former extern for the public defender’s office who now works in the attorney general’s office, kicked off the event with a spoken-word poem about white allies in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We need you to speak your truth because they tried to bury you but didn’t realize they were planting seeds,” he said.

Barnum said he’s been a spoken-word poet for about a decade and uses it as a creative outlet.

“Anytime I get really passionate about something, I just have to write a poem,” Barnum said.

“I just want people of color to know that they do have white allies and that many of us are ready to listen and to learn,” he said.

Belinda Harris, a public defender who is running for a Justice Court seat, said public defenders argue in court that black lives matter every single day.

“We are done hashtagging; we are now planning,” Harris said. “Not only are we protesting in the streets but we are taking over these political seats.”

The group sat and knelt on the steps to the courthouse for eight minutes and 46 seconds, while public defender Jessica Smith-Peterson recited the last words George Floyd spoke before he died while in custody of Minneapolis police on May 25. On that date an officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes after the unarmed black man was accused of trying to buy cigarettes with a fraudulent $20 bill.

The crowd was somber as the words were recited.

“I can’t breathe,” Smith-Peterson repeated.

After the moment of silence, Smith-Peterson led the group in a gradual chant.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” the group yelled. “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Contact Alexis Egeland at aegeland@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0335. Follow @alexis_egeland on Twitter.

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