Unrest in Las Vegas: From the 1992 riots to the 2020 protests

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — 8 News Now is taking a look at the civil unrest in Las Vegas, from after the Rodney King verdict in 1992, to the 2020 protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

If you caught the season four premiere of “S.W.A.T.” on CBS, you probably saw images that were familiar. The Rodney King riots in 1992 sparked a racial reckoning in Los Angeles — and here in Las Vegas. 

It is a conversation that is especially timely this year, with the recent protests surrounding racial injustice.

In late April 1992, riots erupted in L.A. after four white Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King. The verdict led to looting, fires and violence in the streets.

Tensions also mounted in Las Vegas that month, following the verdict. A whole shopping center essentially burned to the ground, and police cracked down on the demonstrations.

“The city kind of was on lockdown,” said Tyler D. Parry, assistant professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at UNLV.

Parry says the 1992 protests in Las Vegas were primarily contained to the West Side, a historically Black neighborhood. 

But the unrest there did not happen overnight.

“It wasn’t just the Rodney King verdict. That was kind of the catalyst for what occurred,” Parry said. “This had been bubbling up since the 1980s, particularly as you have a more heavy-handed form of policing being employed.”

When the situation settled down, efforts were made to bridge the gap between those on the West Side and the police, and things improved.

Fast forward to 2020, and we saw protesters taking to the streets of Las Vegas, including the Strip, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Police responded with improved policies, which have been updated throughout the years. The S.W.A.T. team was still deployed, something Parry says is considered a typical tactic.

The recent protests and police response, as well as the Rodney King riots in L.A., are explored in CBS’ primetime drama “S.W.A.T.” The main character in that show is a Black man in law enforcement, played by Shemar Moore.

Retired Metro Police Sergeant and security expert Jonathan Simon knows that duality all too well. Simon, who is now CEO of Simon Protection Group, worked security at the main gate at Nellis Air Force Base during the Rodney King riots.

“It was really bad during those times,” Simon said. “As an African American that’s in law enforcement, I believe the challenge in 1992, the challenge today is, we have to explain to our kids that every police officer is not bad. How do you get that story line straight?”

The conversation is far from over, and experts say collaboration is key.

“At least perhaps work toward gaining the trust of the community,” Parry said.

Coming together to address racial injustice in Las Vegas and beyond.

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