Las Vegas police are pushing for a county ordinance that would ban obstructions on Strip pedestrian bridges, but opponents say it would violate the First Amendment rights of street performers.
“As I’ve said before, I think this ordinance is reactionary, it’s short-sighted, and it’s going to impact a lot of people,” violinist Brandon Summers said at the Clark County Commission meeting on Tuesday. “I know you’re trying to get homeless people off the bridge, but this will also get street performers off, and it will impend and impede First Amendment speech.”
Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Joshua Bitsko and officer Monica Alnes argued that the table games, T-shirt sales and general gatherings on the bridges have led to narcotic sales, assaults and stabbings.
“These interactions happened because there was something stationary up on the bridge,” Alnes said while presenting videos of fights, public nudity and an unprovoked stabbing. “It just wasn’t free-flowed pedestrian traffic.”
The ordinance, if passed, would treat pedestrian bridges and the escalators around them as sidewalks. This would include all overhead bridges on Las Vegas Boulevard from West Russell Road to West Sahara Avenue. The county would be required to update the map of “no obstruction zones” to include the bridges.
Clark County Commissioners Michael Naft, Justin Jones and William McCurdy asked the Metro representatives for other options, including mental health resources and better lighting on the bridges. McCurdy asked for data on pedestrian bridge arrests and crime reports taken, but the numbers were not immediately available.
Bitsko said officers currently walk along the bridges at all hours offering resources for the homeless and those with mental health problems.
Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, told the commissioners that if the ordinance passed in its current form, the organization would sue within two weeks. He asked for a delay while he negotiates with those involved.
“Our goal is to avoid threatening you with litigation,” he said. “We would be firmly opposed to this because of its chilling impact on the First Amendment.”
The ACLU recently threatened to sue the city of Las Vegas after the City Council considered requirements that street performers obtain photo verification cards to perform on Fremont Street and that certain buskers hold general liability insurance of at least $1 million.
Commissioner Jim Gibson asked that the ordinance on pedestrian bridges be moved to the June meeting agenda, and the commission unanimously agreed.
Contact Sabrina Schnur at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.