by Brandon Summers | September 30, 2021
On September 30, 2018, I was wrongfully arrested and had my violin (and other items) impounded in a LVMPD evidence vault. It was my second time being arrested for street performing, but this time I was deprived of personal property. Though more than one thousand days have elapsed, I still find myself waking up angry at times. It’s an anger that is not directed at the officers involved or the incident itself, but rather the conditions that make situations like mine possible. The anger was made fresh by last year’s uprisings after George Floyd’s death. Additionally, my frustrations have not evaporated with the people and institutions I believe should have helped me, but were idle. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and here are my thoughts three years later.
I think about Elijah McClain often. Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I am not conflating his murder, his mother’s pursuit for justice, or the struggles of families of police homicide with my inconveniences as a street performer; but Elijah’s mother revealed that she did not receive much attention or help from her community for over a year. It wasn’t until the well-publicized murder of George Floyd that Elijah’s story received national attention. From everything I’ve read, Elijah was a gentle and kind person (who should still be here!); and a person I would expect the community to overzealously advocate for following his death. The kind of person you go to war for and ask questions later. Unfortunately, that was not the case. His mother, who struggled with homelessness for years, buried him with no funeral and no cemetery plot. Aside from a handful of community activists shutting down a city council meeting, elected officials sat on their hands until there was a resurgence of public pressure in 2020. Elijah’s story stayed within the confines of local news until that time.
[Sheneen McClain] created the GoFundMe account in August 2019 to pay for her son’s funeral, but the donations didn’t start pouring in until the 2020 protests.– Denver Post
When LVMPD took my stuff, I was certain that this injustice would be reversed quickly. I believed that my standing in the community would have resulted in swift action and possibly hell to pay. How dare a sergeant put the tools of my trade in an evidence vault over a misdemeanor! By this time, I’d been invited to play events for elected officials, been on the local news, been a headliner at community festivals, and been a featured performer at many fancy banquets (I’ve lost count). Additionally, my parents have been in the political scene for years. My father was a practicing attorney. The cards seemed stacked in my favor, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. I reached out to anyone that I believed could help me, but I didn’t receive assistance from familiar faces. All my help came from complete strangers. It was humiliating and I felt small. I felt invisible and abandoned.
Maybe I was wrong to expect anything from anyone. Honestly, I wasn’t necessarily looking for folks to do me a favor, but any guidance in the right direction would have been helpful. I went through the internal affairs process alone. I went through the bodycam request process alone. I was days away from replacing my dad as my attorney because he didn’t seem interested doing more than the bare minimum. The Citizen Review Board was an organization that I was completely unaware of until they reached out to me via Twitter. I got my violin back three months after my arrest and that help came from the Las Vegas NAACP (which I no longer fuck with because of their cozy relationship with Metro. Whenever there’s racial unrest, Las Vegas NAACP is there to bridge the gap). Though my life seemed to going on as normal with gigs and teaching, I was secretly expending an inordinate amount of energy on getting my property back as well as obtaining bodycam footage. Once the criminal case was dropped in December, I went searching for assistance with filing a civil case. That search turned out to be fruitless. It really felt like no one cared. I was absolutely gutted moving into the 2018 holiday season. I just acted like everything was fine so that people wouldn’t worry. I knew they couldn’t understand how I was feeling or what I was going through.
The following year, I started to meet people who were actively organizing against police violence as well as other social justice issues. That was the beginning of me finding my tribe. As I became involved with Forced Trajectory Project and Mass Liberation Project, it was clear that other individuals and families affected by police violence have been fighting for justice too, but were left in the dark— largely ignored by their community, voiceless outside of activist groups, and sparse local coverage. The roads they went down were dead ends and the doors they knocked on were closed. My experience was not unusual. By the summer of 2020, police violence became a topic of national conversation again after George Floyd’s murder went viral. Many ordinary people, especially black people, want to end police violence, but most don’t know where to start; or worse, hope that the people they voted for will find a solution. People who want to see change should become involved in local activism. However, through personal experience and observation, I’ve concluded that grassroots community activism is too often cliquish, fractured, undemocratic, full of grift; and often at odds with people in office (or people wanting to be in office). Quite frankly, many decisions made by community activists piss me off, but at least they’re doing more than sharing Shaun King’s posts on social media. I could go on but that’s not the point of this exercise.
Brandon, you should sue the police
I think it’s safe to say “I’ll sue you” is a phrase that we hear and say all too often, but have no fucking clue what it actually means in practice. Filing a lawsuit against a person or party is not a declaration of victory no more than being charged a with a crime amounts to a conviction. For the record, I’ve had an active lawsuit against LVMPD for one year now. My attorney, has asked me not to talk about it because any communication of any kind (e.g. text messages, emails, Facebook comments, etc.) can be subpoenaed and weaponized against me. Even this very post or my blog can be subpoenaed. Lawsuits are not what we think they are. Lawsuits are expensive, complicated, and time-consuming. Most lawsuits against police officers/departments take years and sometimes multiple lawyers. As of today, my lawsuit has stalled. Sure it’s a bummer, but I am infinitely grateful that my attorney would take me on in the first place. I will have to exercise infinite patience. The ACLU of Nevada was an agency that I reached out to immediately, but they never responded to my intake form, voice messages, or emails. Only one other attorney was interested, but they did nothing after I signed the retainer. I couldn’t do this by myself, so it is what it is. I try not to hold any ill will toward lawyers. They have to pay their bills too; and the money is in medical damages and wrongful death. So unless the police beat you up, kill you (or kill your dog), you’re probably not going to get legal assistance. Most of the bs people experience with racial profiling, illegal searches, unlawful arrests, etc. will go unanswered in the courts.
Last words. Parting shots.
I really enjoy street performing and it changed my life. It probably saved my life too, but I don’t think I’ll go back on The Strip until it’s safe again. I am optimistic (to a fault) that the tides will turn in favor of busking on Las Vegas Boulevard; but I also have accepted that may never happen. I may have to be content with the memories and the amazing people I met along the way. The Strip is more policed and surveilled than it ever has been. The Community Impact Court, established in 2016, acts as a legal mechanism to accommodate mass citations and mass arrests for “chronic nuisance” misdemeanors. We have former county commissioner, current Nevada governor Steve Sisolak to thank as well as his colleagues, the Resort Corridor Workgroup, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (Convention Center Area Command). They are collectively responsible for wiping out the organic street performing culture that thrived for roughly seven years. Hundreds of individuals, not only street performers, have been arrested and cited for “obstructive use of public sidewalk”. And though the the DA’s office has no real desire to rack up convictions, they have expelled harmless people from The Strip and given them criminal records. Steve Sisolak (D) and Joe Lombardo (R) are running for Nevada’s gubernatorial seat, and both are responsible for mass incarceration and mass surveillance.
Former county commissioner Lawrence Weekly is one of the most reprehensible, two-faced people I’ve ever worked with— the true embodiment of a corrupt politician. Weekly hired me to perform at several of his campaign fundraisers in 2011, ignored my pleas to not vote on creating new county ordinances that would criminalize street performing, and then told me “get your money, then change the world” after I performed at one of his events in 2018. He may be revered by many black people in Las Vegas, but he also sold out the Westside when he allowed the City of Las Vegas to close down every artery from the Westside to downtown Las Vegas. From the bottom of my heart, fuck him.
The police reformists are wrong. Dead wrong. They mean well, but they fall for the same platitudes over and over again: Getting rid of the bad apples, community outreach, racial sensitivity training, diversity in new hires, bodycams ($288/hr for LVMPD). Policing in the United States is a tradition and continuation of white supremacist violence. No matter how many dance videos, backpack giveaways, or community events the police take part in, they’re still going to perpetuate violence without consequence. They’re gonna lie to protect their co-workers, their jobs, and their future promotions. They’re gonna withhold evidence, do illegal searches, plant drugs, sexually assault women, shoot dogs, asphyxiate and kill unarmed citizens; all while making great salaries and exhausting public dollars. No citizen review board is going to stop this and the good cops aren’t going to out the bad ones. That myth has been debunked.