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Film Friday: Covering Reno's riot was a scene straight out of Batman

Reno Riots
Riots broke out in Reno last Saturday. (KRNV/KRXI: John Linn)

City Hall was on fire.

Police were dressed to the nines in full riot gear and civil unrest flooded the streets. There was a smell of old tear gas lingering in the air mixed with the sound of fireworks.

The police barricade wasn’t more than four corners of the street, but the tension in city plaza was palpable.

Sounds like the scene out of a Batman movie, right?

Well, there was no caped-crusader that would come flying in to save the day. That was the scene that unfolded before my eyes in downtown Reno on Saturday night.

Before we get back to the chaos, I want to start at the beginning of my Saturday.

Daytime

I was just coming back to life. The previous five days were some of the most grueling I've endured because I was battling what I thought to be COVID-19.

I had been out of work all week. My fever spiked to a high of 104. My body was going numb. If not for an ice-cold shower and the help of my friends who left medicine, I don’t think I could have broken that fever when I did.

I got tested for coronavirus earlier in the week and early Friday morning received the results. They were negative. I also got tested for some other illnesses but they all drew a blank. The doctors credited it all to a bad flu.

By Saturday morning, I was feeling almost back to normal. Ninety percent was the number I was texting concerned friends and lovers.

I had decided to go for one of my favorite walks in the city to try and build a sweat. I would start at Hub Coffee Roaster by the river, make my way to the heart of downtown by Virginia Street and then back toward Idlewild park. My goal was to walk until I hit houses and there was no more trail to walk.

Nearly seven miles later, I had made the full loop.

But being bedridden for the past five days made me want to go further. So I decided to walk back downtown one final time since it was such a scenic day out. It was really one of those perfect spring afternoons, the kind that you’d find yourself wanting to hang out at the Eddy and do anything but social distance.

On my way back, I stumbled into this.

It was quite the sight. We’ve all been locked up in quarantine and six feet in front of me stand thousands, a throng marching passionately south on Virginia Street to protest the death of George Floyd and racial and social injustice in our country.

It’s been months since I’ve seen that size of people flooding the but what a powerful scene to see. At that point, it remained a peaceful march, but as the hours passed and night fell things changed.

Nightfall

When I arrived downtown later that night, a curfew had already been in place. There was an eerie darkness, and you could hear yelling from a distance. I heard random fireworks explode and flashbangs growing louder as I walked closer to the chaos.

I’ve lived in Northern Nevada for nearly five years. I've covered every single sporting event known to man here. I started at this station as a weekend news photographer and four months on that job was the extent of my news coverage in the Biggest Little City.

I was about to be our lead field reporter as we took the riots live having never covered a riot, protest or anything remotely resembling what was about to unfold.

The police barricade was still small when I arrived, touching all four corners of First and Virginia streets. Every way you turned, there was someone yelling. Rioters were breaking windows and throwing rocks pulled out of the Truckee River at law enforcement.

Blue and red police lights lit the area like it was holiday season, but the only thing being celebrated was the American right to free speech and protest.

The old, the angry, the young and the naive were present. Children on skateboards cruised city plaza. The cries for justice rang louder and louder. Large trash cans were being pushed directly towards the police barricade. Graffiti was being sprayed over Virginia Street Bridge and in neighboring businesses along the Truckee River.

You had to keep your head on a swivel, and I couldn’t help but think of a saying I first heard from Nevada baseball coach T.J. Bruce.

“Be where your feet are. Be present."

Information wasn’t readily available. It was just the camera crew, my microphone and the scene at hand.

When the National Guard arrived, everything changed.

In an instant, multiple flashbangs and tear gas were thrown at the angry mob. You couldn’t see the police sirens anymore. Just smoke everywhere. Everyone was scattered. You would see random pedestrians running out of the cloud followed by the National Guard dressed as if ready for war.

I’ll never forget the feeling of tear gas touching my eyes. It was a burning sensation like I had never felt. I just wanted to dunk my head into a bucket of cold water. Every blink was more excruciatingly painful than the last. One of our photographers thankfully had saline that saved the day.

The police barricade that stretched four corners of the street now took over all of the city plaza. Our crew was safe.

As the rest of the night played out, word of looting and broken windows to businesses took over the narrative. There was a car on fire, other motorcyclists were revving their engine at local law enforcement and word on the street was Patagonia had been hit.

This was the extent of the damage that night. Things could have been much worse. As the clock crept closer to midnight, the large crowd dispersed from hundreds to dozens. The riot was over.

The aftermath

There’s something to be said about the sound of silence.

After hours of hearing glass breaking, rioters chanting, flashbacks and rubber bullets being shot every which way, sitting in a quiet car driving home almost doesn’t feel real.

The city was under curfew, there weren't many cars on the road and I was ready for a hot shower

I was most relieved that nobody was seriously injured or hurt. Those moments were so tense, it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility for someone to open fire and for things to turn deadly.

I woke up the next morning to a tweet that reminded me of the Reno I’ve come to love so much.

This community is united and powerful. Despite a dark night and some broken windows, several were ready to rebuild, to make a better tomorrow.

We haven’t been living a normal lifestyle. Quarantine has tested all of us, but it’s also made us self-aware of the realities this country and our world are facing.

Racial injustice and institutionalized racism may be in the cloth of our history, but it doesn’t need to define our future any longer.

As a mixed-race minority who grew up in not-the-best-area of Los Angeles County, I have experienced these racial prejudices from law enforcement first hand. Something’s gotta give. It’s been so powerful seeing what these protests have done across the country and how the voices of many are creating change.

We have a long way to go, but it gives me hope, and revolutions were built on the foundation of hope.

Julian Del Gaudio is a reporter for Nevada Sports Net. You contact him at jcdelgaudio@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @JulianDelGaudio.

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