Four San Jose police officers are on administrative leave after being linked to a private Facebook group rife with bigoted and racist comments, but South Bay community leaders say that’s not enough.
The racism will not go away simply by firing or disciplining the officers who posted on the page, said Raj Jayadev, co-founder of social justice group Silicon Valley De-Bug. That’s because racism is “deeply ingrained” into police culture and those cops have been protected by the powerful San Jose Police Officers Association.
“The only way to remove the racism is to fire every officer in the San Jose Police Department, dismantle the San Jose Police Department and divert the resources to the community to imagine and create a new way of how public safety is realized for all in San Jose,” Jayadev wrote in a post.
Will Armaline, a San Jose State professor who leads the university’s Human Rights Institute, said it’s reasonable to expect the firings of the officers but there’s a bigger conversation looming.
“It’s less interesting to talk about how to ‘punish these individuals more’ than it is to discuss the infiltration of law enforcement by fascists and/or white nationalists,” Armaline told San José Spotlight.
The private Facebook group, 10-7ODSJ, was first exposed in an anonymous post on Medium and an article in San Jose Inside. The author of the Medium post, who penned the piece under the name “Charlie Paulsen,” identified themselves as a partner of someone working for a Bay Area police department.
In the post, he exposed racist comments and memes that mocked Muslims, poor people living in a minority neighborhood of San Jose and the Black Lives Matter movement.
San Jose traffic officer Mark Pimentel posted that “black lives don’t really matter” — bone chilling words, according to Jayadev.
Retired SJPD officer William Rockmiller posted a rant about the Black Lives Matter movement, calling protesters “racist idiots” out to “divide the American people any way they can.” He said the BLM activists are “nothing less than the domestic enemies we swore an oath against in order to protect the U.S. constitution.”
Rockmiller also posted an article about a Los Angeles Muslim woman whose hijab was yanked off by a police officer. He claimed she used the head covering as “primarily a political statement” — and not a religious symbol.
“Hell,” Pimentel wrote in response to the article, “I would have pulled it over her face.”
“I say re-purpose the hijabs into nooses,” chimed in retired SJPD officer Michael Nagel, who also posted an image of a “Sharia Barbie,” who has a black eye and comes with a hijab, bruises, a Quran and stoning accessories.
Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area, told the Mercury News that the Islamophobic sentiment is terrifying coming from police officers.
“I worry that this is not just a few bad officers and this is not just a few bad posts — I’m concerned that other officers knew about these posts and looked the other way,” she said.
The Medium author said the posts call into question how the San Jose officers applied their racist views while in uniform.
“For example, how many times has Officer Pimentel pulled over a women with a hijab for “speeding” or a ‘broken tail-light?'” he asked. “Id like to know how he turns off his explicit belief that “black lives don’t really matter” as he uses his ‘discretion’ to pull people over or give them a ticket.”
Retired SJPD officer Steven Wilson made disparaging comments about Tim Harper, a 40-year-old construction worker who helped move an injured officer during a protest over the police killing of George Floyd in downtown San Jose on May 30.
Later that night, while trying to help a child who had been hit with a rubber round, Harper told San José Spotlight that he was shot, too. He was carrying an upside down flag around the protest, which represents a country in distress.
“I had to come out here because I’m proof of how corrupt these people are,” Harper told this news organization that night. “I helped one of them drag (the officer) to the car. I wasn’t aggressive, I had my hands up and they still shot me. It doesn’t matter what color skin you have.”
Wilson posted on the Facebook that Harper is an “idiot” and deserved for his eye to be injured.
Despite implicit bias trainings, Armaline said this type of racism from cops via texts or social media posts has been seen across the state and the infiltration of law enforcement by “fascist and white nationalists” is a subject of concern for the U.S. Department of Justice.
On Friday, high-ranking officials across the South Bay quickly condemned the behavior and called for the officers to be disciplined.
“While I have no control over what former employees post online, I can voice my outrage after hearing about these comments made online. Any current employee involved with bigoted activity online will promptly be investigated and held accountable to the fullest extent in my power,” Police Chief Eddie Garcia said in a statement. “We have no place for this.”
Paul Kelly, president of the San Jose Police Officers Association, said the police union has zero tolerance for hateful behavior.
“I am announcing tonight that I am taking swift action against any member of the SJPOA that has participated in this online ring of hate because there is zero room in our department or our profession for racists, bigots or those that enable them,” he said in a video post. “These are initial steps, more will follow in the coming days. To the community we serve, we are sincerely sorry and our actions must rise to meet this terrible stain on our profession.”
District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement that his office would conduct a “comprehensive review” of all cases in which current and retired officers had a role.
“What I just read sickened me and made me sick for our entire community. No one who expresses these types of disgusting, racist comments should ever wear a badge,” Rosen said in the statement. “Anyone who writes this kind of trash has no role in our criminal justice system.”
Mayor Sam Liccardo also demanded a “full investigation” and called for the termination of any officers who made racist, anti-Muslim remarks on the Facebook page. He also vowed to change the disciplinary process that allows the reversal of terminations — similar to how Officer Phil White was reinstated in 2016 for tweets criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement and threatening gun violence.
“Our chief fired an officer for tweeting a similar statement in 2016, but an unaccountable arbitrator — immune from public or court review — reversed the termination, and forced the department to reinstate the officer,” Liccardo said.
But Jayadev from Silicon Valley De-Bug said that is not good enough. He renewed his call to defund the police department.
“To limit the scope of the accountability to these officers who exposed themselves would be intentionally denying this context and history and simply stalling until the next scandal is exposed or the next beating or killing is caught on camera,” he said. “City officials should not be allowed to kick the can down the road — lives are at stake.”