Nevada bans ‘sunset sirens’ historically used to drive people of color out of cities

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Nevada has officially banned the use of “sunset sirens,” which in the past were used to evict non-white people from cities at night.

On Friday, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed a bill Bill which prohibits sirens previously sounded on specific days or times in connection with an ordinance issued by the county requiring persons of a particular race to leave the county, city or town within the county for a specified period of time.

The bill was introduced by Councilman Howard Watts after years of criticism from the Washoe tribe of the city of Minden over the 6:00 p.m. siren, which chieftains claim dates back to when non-whites were ordered to shut down the city at 6:30 p.m. hours to leave.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed a law Friday banning sunset sirens, which were historically used to drive non-white people out of town at night.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed a law Friday banning sunset sirens, which were historically used to drive non-white people out of town at night.

The bill was introduced after years of controversy over the city of Minden's siren at 6 p.m.

The bill was introduced after years of controversy over the city of Minden’s siren at 6 p.m.

“It’s something that is still deeply hurtful,” Watts told locals NBC plugged in. “There are still members of the Washoe Tribe and others who know exactly what it means when that goes off.”

During the Jim Crow era, sunset restrictions were imposed across the United States, according to the Huffington Post and stated that non-white people seen in a particular congregation after sunset could be arrested or beaten.

Douglas County, Nevada officials first approved a sunset ordinance in 1908 for the town of Gardnerville, less than two miles south of Minden.

It stated: “All Indians (except those actually employed as servants in the city of Gardnerville) who remain in the city of Gardnerville after sundown each day are hereby declared a public nuisance and are considered harmful to the county. in general and to the city of Gardnerville in particular.”

The ordinance was extended in 1917, according to the Record Courier, which originally published the ordinance in the 20th century, to include the new county seat in Minden.

Washoe Tribal Chairman Serrell Smokey said the siren dates back to a time when a local ordinance forbade Native Americans from staying in city limits after 6 p.m.

Washoe Tribal Chairman Serrell Smokey said the siren dates back to a time when a local ordinance forbade Native Americans from staying in city limits after 6 p.m.

The ordinance prohibiting Native Americans from staying in nearby Gardnerville extended to the city of Minden in 1917, when it was then the seat of Douglas County government

The ordinance prohibiting Native Americans from staying in nearby Gardnerville extended to the city of Minden in 1917, when it was then the seat of Douglas County government

The new ordinance required members of the Washoe tribe to be out of Gardnerville by 6:30 p.m. or they would face 10 days in prison or a $25 fine. It contained no exemption for white-collar workers.

Four months later, a story appeared on the front page of the Record-Courier, the local newspaper reported, about the Gardnerville Fire Department installing a new siren in Odd Fellow’s Hall, which could be heard for miles.

Minden Town Manager JD Frisby has said the siren was purchased for emergency use, telling the Huffington Post it originally sounded twice a day as part of a test for insurance purposes.

He said the firefighters chose to sound the siren at noon and 6:00 pm because of their scheduled work and it was “never bound” by the sunset ordinance in Gardnerville, where officials used a whistle to evict the Native Americans.

“It’s a shame the true history of the siren hasn’t been added to any of the news articles, but at this point we’ve lost the true story,” Frisby said, pointing out that for most of the year he was “trying” to make history to show without luck.’

He told KOLO-TV he could understand how the siren’s timing could be misconstrued as referring to a sunset ordinance, “but that’s not the siren’s intent.”

Councilor Howard Watts introduced the bill banning the siren, saying it is 'still deeply hurtful' to members of the Washoe Tribe

Councilor Howard Watts introduced the bill banning the siren, saying it is ‘still deeply hurtful’ to members of the Washoe Tribe

The Washoe tribe has been battling the nighttime siren wail since 2006 and it was soon taken out, though Frisby said it was only because it needed some maintenance.

But when residents began expressing their dismay, KOLO reports, it was turned back on and the county drafted a resolution saying it sounded to “honor first responders.”

Then, just last year, a California resident who owns real estate in the area created a… online petition to ‘stop’ the siren. It received more than 13,000 signatures, with over 10,000 in just two weeks.

“Is this something that should continue in America in 2020,” Matt Niswonger wrote in his petition. “Or is this something from the past that we want to be in the past?”

Members of the Washoe Tribe then renewed their call for the siren to stop, saying it could be sounded at other times of the day – just not at 6 p.m.

“Change it to 5 or 7,” said Tracy Kizer, a member of the tribe who lives in the area. “Turn it off at 6 o’clock.”

Frisby said the city has been working with tribal leaders to discuss the matter, and he hopes discussions will continue.

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