Civil rights activists gathered at City Hall Saturday to remember fathers lost to police violence — and call out San Jose lawmakers for ignoring pleas to defund the police.
Instead of reducing police spending in next year’s budget, Mayor Sam Liccardo and his council colleagues last week voted to spend $1.5 million to create a new office of racial equity.
But Raj Jayadev, co-founder of the social justice group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said the office is just more government bureaucracy and won’t make a difference in ending structural racism. The office, he said, is a tactic to stifle the public’s demands and to make it appear that the city is doing something to address racism and police brutality — when it really is not.
“Given the opportunity, they wilted. They failed in the moment in a way that they rarely could ever get back,” he told the crowd. “They said, hey look, let’s try to be slick and let’s take an alternative that takes all the air out of this movement. They heard people for hours say we have an issue with structural racism… and we have a solution.”
That solution, Jayadev said, is shrinking police’s footprint in San Jose. But officials instead voted to form a new government office.
“We’re going to call it the racial equity office. It’ll have a nice plaque on the door. Maybe it will have some nice posters of Martin Luther King on the wall,” he continued. “And (they said) we’ll invest a million dollars to study structural racism. If we push hard enough and we’re bold enough, we might even generate a report about structural racism.
“So in the face of an unprecedented social movement, a ground up movement of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ they said instead of ending the structures of racism, we’re going to create a report on structural racism,” he said.
The demand from San Jose activists to defund police follows a national movement to divest government spending on policing and instead reallocate funds to other agencies to handle calls related to homelessness, mental illness, theft, drug crimes and some domestic disturbances. The idea, advocates said, is to demilitarize police and reallocate police funds to social services.
The movement in San Jose follows outcry over the police response during weeklong protests against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful protesters, leading the mayor and police chief to reevaluate the department’s use-of-force policies and recommend banning the use of rubber bullets for crowd control.
But Mayor Sam Liccardo has been steadfast in his opposition to defunding the police, arguing for reform instead. The mayor said slashing the police budget will disproportionately hurt communities of color.
“I don’t believe that the more affluent neighborhoods in San Jose will suffer with defunding; we’ve seen the explosive growth of the private patrol industry in cities like Atlanta, for example,” Liccardo wrote in a Medium post this month. “But our families of modest means will suffer. Westfield and Santana Row will hire security guards for the businesses in their malls, but immigrant-owned small businesses along East Santa Clara Street, Alum Rock and Story Road will struggle with the robbery and vandalism without recourse.”
Liccardo said other cities, such as Los Angeles, have the “luxury” of defunding police without undermining public safety. But San Jose, he argued, has the most thinly-staffed police department of any major U.S. city.
Other reform measures backed by Liccardo include expanding the authority of the Independent Police Auditor and mandating a “duty to intervene” on all officers.
But Jayadev said funding for San Jose police’s weapons and units that “harass and arrest people because they’re poor” could go directly to the black and brown communities that have been oppressed.
Sandy Sanchez, the mother of Anthony Nuñez, an 18-year-old who was shot and killed by San Jose police four years ago, said officers take a life and go on paid administrative leave, while families are left to suffer. A federal jury found the two officers who killed Sanchez’s son used excessive force.
“They go on vacations with their families, and we’re left behind to find money to bury our loved one,” Sanchez said Saturday. “When you talk about defunding police, what does that mean for our families? It means taking away a couple of your millions and using that for our families. Help us out. You took a life.”
Contact Ramona Giwargis at [email protected] or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.