A little more than a year after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer —following massive protests and calls for reform of police departments across the country—San Jose police officers took the life of another Black man, Demetrius Stanley, on May 31.
“It’s really heartbreaking to see so many families lose their loved ones, when things could have been deescalated,” said Rosie Chavez, whose nephew Jacob Dominguez was killed by SJPD in 2017. “What makes them the judge, jury and executioner?”
Just months prior, SJPD officers shot and killed Gilroy resident David Tovar, Jr. as he ran from police on Jan. 21.
The police killings of the two men show little has changed in the San Jose Police Department a year after Floyd’s murder, though the city has made attempts such as launching a new city office racial equity office and forming a new public safety committee.
The San Jose Reimagined Safety Advisory Committee, which includes 46 leaders across Silicon Valley, was supposed to address concerns about community safety and draft recommendations for police reform. But at least seven people quit after saying there was no real focus on police reform.
SJPD killed at least 23 people since 2013, according to PoliceScorecard.org. Among those killed, 17% were unarmed and 48% were Latino. Police excessive use of force was among the top complaints by San Jose residents last year.
Chavez said when she heard about Stanley’s death, she felt a familiar pain.
“It’s a trigger for us, because when we hear it, we know what it feels like,” she said. “They leave kids behind, and we know what those kids are going to go through, too.”
Stanley was killed just outside of his home, according to the SJPD media briefing held on June 2. Police Chief Anthony Mata said undercover officers were investigating an armed robbery, in which Stanley was a suspect, on the night of the shooting.
“Any loss of life is tragic, and my thoughts and prayers are with the Stanley family,” Mata said.
Chavez said Stanley’s killing reminded her of how her nephew was killed.
“My nephew was also killed by undercover cops that didn’t identify themselves, that were in unmarked cars,” she said. “I feel they could have done more in at least identifying themselves.”
Rev. Jeff Moore, president of the Silicon Valley NAACP, said the police department should use better protocols for undercover work. The reverend declined to speak further on Stanley’s death, as he is related to the family.
“I do not agree with anybody being shot,” Moore said. “For Demetrius, there’s so many questions about what they could have done differently and why police were there.”
Moore said Tovar, Jr.’s death in January showed the most negative side of SJPD, and that it was unacceptable for police to shoot an unarmed man fleeing from them.
“Those officers shot a man in the back,” Moore said. “And then they had the audacity to release a dog on a man who was already down instead of rendering aid… Those cops need to be held accountable immediately.”
Chavez said she spoke to witnesses of the Tovar, Jr. shooting who were traumatized by the incident.
“They were calling the cops saying there was shooting, but they didn’t know (the shooters) were cops,” Chavez said.
SJPD released a statement on Tovar Jr.’s killing on March 5, saying he was a suspect or a person of interest in several crimes, including assaults, attempted murders and one homicide.
Chavez said it’s common for police departments to focus on the criminal history of the people they kill.
“The first thing they do is say, ‘Hey, let’s put out their criminal history,’” she said. “This police department needs to do better.”
Moore said Mata, who became head of the department this year, showed a greater degree of respect to Stanley’s family than had previously been shown to other victims of police violence. The reverend said Mata contacted the family before the video was released to the press for them to review first.
“I think that that was a good start,” Moore said. “Hopefully that’s a sign of change.”
The call for change after Floyd’s murder swept across the police department to the corridors of San Jose City Hall.
A month after Floyd was murdered by a white officer, San Jose established an office of racial equity at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests. The office has trained dozens of city employees on embedding racial equity work in local government and is using those city workers to help build an equity culture.
Four months later, the city erected banners at City Hall declaring support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although problems with SJPD have existed for a long time, Chavez said she’s glad the recent protests have brought injustices to the forefront.
“I wouldn’t have known, either, if it wasn’t for my nephew being killed,” Chavez said. “Everything’s being revealed, and it shows that our police department is not one of the best police departments.”
Moore said the community needs to improve independent oversight of SJPD, and to demilitarize the police force as much as possible.
“Let’s get them back to solving crimes and keep them away from a lot of issues, like homeless encampments and dealing with mental health cases,” Moore said. “They’re not supermen, they’re only human.”
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.