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BLM and COVID-19 Protests Overshadow 2020 Campaigns

Henry Stone reports on how this election cycle has been unlike any other, including the prevalence of Black Live Matter protests which for months dominated news coverage. Stone highlights the lens of another student reporter JJ Mazzucotelli, who is also a protest photographer and who contributed photography to this report.

Black Lives Matter gathered peacefully in Reno’s City Plaza, with the vast majority of them wearing masks. Photo with permission to use by JJ Mazzucotelli.

Increased Political Engagement Through Protest

A student at the Reynolds School of Journalism and an already experienced conflict and protest photojournalist, JJ Mazzucotelli, has been covering Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Reopen Nevada, and other protests occurring in Northern Nevada during this election year and sees heightened connections with the 2020 vote.

“I was too young to cover the original wave of BLM protests that started circa 2014,” said Mazzucotelli. “I think we’re seeing more people, specifically young people, engaged politically, and while some of that is certainly due to the current political climate, a portion of it is based in the BLM movement.”

Starting in Minneapolis where George Floyd, a Black man, was brutally killed by police in late May, millions of people have protested and continue to protest against police brutality and racism in all forms. Different polls estimate between 15 million to 26 million people participated in demonstrations in the United States before July, with those numbers growing since then.

With protests in more than 2,000 cities, across all 50 states, and in over 40% of counties, the current Black Lives Matter protests have become perhaps the largest our nation has ever experienced.

In Nevada, George Floyd-related protests began in Las Vegas and Reno on May 29th and 30th respectively, and later spread to Boulder City, Mesquite, Carson City, Elko, and Fallon. Even in remote and rural Winnemucca, a group of high school students led a peaceful march in support of Black Lives Matter.

Government mandates over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic also became a source of protests in 2020. “Reopen Nevada” protesters spoke out against Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s orders to close businesses. Photo with permission to use by JJ Mazzucotelli.

The Reopen Protests

Earlier in the pandemic, members of the Reopen Nevada Group protested in Las Vegas and Carson City, calling on Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak to “reopen Nevada’s economy.”

Many pro-Republican President Donald Trump signs could be seen at these protests. Gov. Sisolak, a Democrat, previously ordered the closures of many Nevada businesses to limit the spread of Covid-19. Some protestors said Nevada should be completely reopened while others thought Gov. Sisolak’s reopening phases were too slow. In COVID-19 related protests, the vast majority of those rallying against the state’s governor did not wear face masks or any form of protective gear.

Black Lives Matter protesters in Minden, NV are overwhelmed by a larger Blue Lives Matter group of counter-protesters. Photo with permission to use by JJ Mazzucotelli.

Blues Lives Matter Counter Protests

As the election has come closer, BLM protests in Nevada were prolonged and organized as recently as August. One protest in Minden, NV, made national headlines when around 50 Black Lives Matter supporters were overrun by more than 1,500 counter-protesters and Blue Lives Matter supporters.

“This has affected both sides of the political spectrum,” said Mazzucotelli. “One side has been energized to create change and the other side has been energized to try and prevent it,” he said.

The political fault lines aren’t always clear cut, though, and also includes those who believe whoever is elected especially at the top of voter ballots between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden won’t change anything.

“While a lot of people are becoming newly engaged in politics, a not insignificant number of those people are arriving at the conclusion that elections and voting don’t change all that much,” said Mazzucotelli. “ If they want to see real change, they have to bring it about in other fashions.”

Reporting by Henry Stone for the Reynolds Sandbox



A pop up election newsroom from the Reynolds Sandbox. We covered the 2018 cycle and will be back for 2020.

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Reynolds Sandbox

Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.