Ramsey Denison’s What Happened in Vegas is a well crafted documentary on the killing – watching the film one really wants to say murder – of four men by the Las Vegas police.
The men, Stanley Gibson, Tashi Farmer, Erik Scott, and Trevon Cole – three black, one white, two Veterans – and their murders are profiled, as well as the arrests of people who protested these killings. (In one case a number of individuals were arrested for chalking messages on the sidewalk, on the grounds that washing off the chalk cost the city thousands of dollars. Leading to a subsequent protest where a group of women chalked messages on a sidewalk and then washed it off with buckets of water and some brooms.)
Denison, a professional video editor for TV and movies, was himself beaten and thrown in jail for 3 days in August 2013, when he made a 911 call to report “improper conduct by police officers” when he viewed an instance of police brutality. (Denison is white.) Spurring him to make a documentary on what he views as Las Vegas’s uniquely corrupt and abusive police department.
To be released in August to theaters (one Vegas theater that had planned to show it has allegedly been pressured by the police to drop it), What Happened in Vegas was screened Thursday in Las Vegas at FreedomFest, the annual libertarian festival.
It was the 10th annual FreedomFest, organized by hard money investment advisor Mark Skousen. The 2,000 attendees at FreedomFest skew older, whiter, wealthier and perhaps more “right libertarian,” compared to other libertarian festivals – the defunct Southern California counter-cultural Libertopia, the off-the-grid New Hampshire PorcFest, or Washington D.C.’s annual International Students for Liberty Conference. The exhibitors at FreedomFest are about half investment opportunities – everything from hard money gold bugs to start ups making pitches. (2015 was the biggest FreedomFest, largely because Donald Trump was the keynote speaker – this year it’s William Shatner Friday, following John Stossel on Thursday. In 2016 there was a knock-down-drag-out debate between pro- and anti-Trump panelists, and a similar debate happens this weekend.)
But for the screening the Anthem Film Festival (a 3 day long event), FreedomFest became much more diverse, with many friends and family members of the men killed in attendance – one child began to cry and had to leave when video of the police beating and tasering Tashi Farmer appeared on screen. Audience members asking questions during the panel discussion afterwards included a member of the New Black Panthers, who had been shown in the movie being arrested for being at one of the protests of the killings (the question: “Shouldn’t there be the death penalty for cops who kill people without justification?”)
It’s too bad President Trump isn’t still a candidate so that he might have been at FreedomFest. One wonders if like Nixon opening China, President Trump might not be uniquely positioned to do something about corrupt and abusive police departments, coming up with some solution that encourages community policing, respects police as public servants, and also eliminates unwarranted searches and seizures and police strangling, shooting, and beating unarmed suspects.
President Trump unloaded earlier this week on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and when interviewed about this Senator Rand Paul observed that he had his own problems with Sessions, mainly because of Session’s fondness for civil asset forfeiture, where government agencies, including local police departments, can seize assets (including cash) of people who are never convicted of a crime, and turn it into their agency’s own slush fund. Civil asset forfeiture alone would seem to be a practice that teaches police to view themselves as above the public, and in a predatory relation to the community.
One could hope for some opening where President Trump can give Attorney General Sessions some type of promotion, perhaps an Ambassadorship or an appointment to an international agency. Then he could appoint someone with more respect for civil liberties and criminal justice reform – the attendees at FreedomFest would probably hope for something like retiring Judge Janice Rogers Brown or Georgetown Law School professor Randy Barnett. But any Attorney General with a serious respect for the Bill of Rights and the need for criminal justice reform could help clean up situations like Las Vegas. And perhaps help a Trump 2020 campaign make further inroads into more parts of the Democratic Party base the Democrats have for too long ignored.