The siren has been associated with a racist law dating to 1917 that ordered members of the Washoe tribe out of town by 6:30 p.m.
As more communities struggle with how to address the racist histories of their founding residents, modern lawmakers are taking a second look at old legislation. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak recently signed Assembly Bill 88, a law which bans communities from sounding sirens connected with a past law “which required persons of a particular race, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin or color to leave the town by a certain time.” The bill also forbids racially offensive school mascots. Fox5 Las Vegas reports the new measure could affect 20 schools in Clark County, Nevada alone.
The bill could affect up to 20 schools in Clark County including Western High School, where the mascot is a Native American wearing a headdress. https://t.co/XScrnsYIZi
— FOX5 Las Vegas (@FOX5Vegas) June 4, 2021
Minden, where an alarm rings at 6 p.m., will be targeted by this measure. The siren has been associated with a racist law dating to 1917 that signaled members of the Washoe tribe to be out of town by 6:30.
“It’s something that is still deeply hurtful,” says the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state assemblyman Howard Watts, CNN reports. “There are still members of the Washoe Tribe and others who know exactly what it means when that goes off.”
According to the Record-Courier, Douglas County turned off the sirens in 2006 as part of an effort to improve relations with the Washoe Tribe. Two months later, the county voted to restore the siren, this time in honor of emergency workers.
The city’s town manager J.D. Frisby told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the city doesn’t consider the language in the bill to apply to them since they have stated that the nightly siren is not related to the sundown ordinance but, rather, is intended to honor volunteer firefighters.
Frisby added that many in the town grew up hearing the siren as a “dinner bell” and would have strong feelings about having the siren disappear.
“Where does it stop, you know?” Frisby said. “I could tell you the Lutheran bells that chime all day long are offensive to me, but being offended is a choice. At what point do we just roll over and give up to everything someone is offended by?”
Finally banning a siren that goes off at sundown that historically was to warn Native Americans to get inside their homes, lest they be shot, arrested, or hung. Yuck. Garnderville and Minden, this is shameful, please be happy this happened, not mad. https://t.co/DnmrISuFxR
— Callie W (@CallieW1013) June 6, 2021
But declaring that the siren now wails for first responders doesn’t change what that sound means to those who know the history of the town, Watts said.
“It is similar in some ways to people who display the Confederate flag and claim that they do it for a reason that is not racially discriminatory,” Watts added. “We just have to recognize that for many people in this country — and speaking as somebody who’s descended from enslaved people in this country — that is hurtful to see.”
Nevada just banned “sundown sirens,” which originally signaled when non-white folks had to leave town each day and were still retained in some places: https://t.co/ZVHluwbnRX
— Matt Ford (@fordm) June 5, 2021
Serrell Smokey, chairman of the Washoe Tribe, spoke about why they have fought to rid the siren from the town, the Review-Journal reported. The town is located on tribal land.
“It’s putting an end to this living piece of historical trauma; that historical trauma affects my people still to this day, the Washoe People,” Smokey said. “It’s more than just shutting a siren down. It’s about acknowledging the history of this town, acknowledging the fact that there was a huge amount of racism, a huge amount of discrimination towards nonwhite citizens, mainly the Washoe people that lived in this area.”
The Review-Journal reports that the sirens have a different effect on some residents. The sirens are “a reminder that you stay over there, and we stay over here,” said Running Wolf, an assistant professor of race and media at the University of Nevada, Reno.