Sunday was not a day of rest in downtown San Jose.
Instead, a faith-based coalition of South Bay community leaders lept into action, recounting personal histories with law enforcement and reimagining public safety in San Jose.
Dozens of attendees and thousands of online viewers listened to speeches from Santa Clara County organizations, including the NAACP, CAIR, San Jose Strong, WV Muslim Association, Jewish Community Relations Council and Santa Clara County public defenders – an afternoon hosted by Derrick and Cayla Sanderlin, community organizers for People Acting in Community Together (PACT). Derrick Sanderlin was struck in the groin by a rubber bullet fired by San Jose police officers during Black Lives Matter protests in May.
Speakers honoring those who have lost their lives at the hands of police met south of San Jose City Hall, outside Urban Sanctuary’s mural declaring “Jesus was an Agitator” – a message the church hopes encourages protesters and activists to continue pushing for change.
Father Jon Pedigo called out fellow faith leaders, saying “thoughts and prayers” aren’t enough and urged them to speak out against injustices and violence, including police’s use of rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters in May. “Preaching to the choir” is no longer an option, he said.
Rev. Jeff Moore, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, pointed to the latest incidence of police brutality Friday where a woman was seen being kicked and dragged by a San Jose police officer outside a McDonald’s. Evoking the late John Lewis’ calls for “good trouble,” Moore said public safety will only change if people who spend time sitting in pews work to change the environment in San Jose by asking themselves ‘What would Jesus do?’
Moore also called for the resignation of Police Chief Eddie Garcia.
“I’m more like Jesus. He was a radical social activist who died fighting for the common good of all people,” Moore said. “It’s time for us to get some sense, and say it’s time for Chief Garcia to go.”
Sacred Heart CEO Poncho Guevara said public safety needs to pivot from criminalizing people. He said police funding should be reinvested to create safe communities through greater access to food, shelter and healthcare resources.
“The foundation of community safety and security is an environment where residents are rooted, engaged, healthy and have meaningful economic opportunities,” Guevara said. “Persistent racial divisions have exacerbated poverty and disparate health and educational outcomes, particularly for communities of color and especially for our black brothers and sisters.”
Former San Jose Independent Police Auditor Aaron Zisser said change must start with internal leadership to reform a culture that’s allowed police brutality propaganda, publicized racist sentiments and unconstitutional treatment of residents.
He advocated for expanding the powers of the Independent Police Auditor, including increased access to view all police records – not only cherry-picked, redacted documents. Zisser added that more power should be given to the community to make decisions and provide direct oversight, rather than following San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s nine-point reform plan or other internally drafted changes.
“Culture will change with reforms drafted not by the Police Officer’s Association, the (police) chief or the mayor,” he said, “but by the folks who are in the communities every day, serving the most pressing needs in the community, working on mental health, education, anti-violence and homelessness, hunger and racism.”
But how does change start and what needs to be done?
Kareem Sayed, youth director at the West Valley Muslim Association, said groups of students for months have organized rallies not only in support of Black Lives, but also for rape survivors and climate change.
Sayed said elected officials and community leaders should join young activists to reform and reimagine public safety.
“This is what we’re supposed to do. We have to get together… we are not waiting for an institution that has continued to perpetuate the discrimination and dehumanization of our fellow brothers and sisters,” Sayed said. “It is our duty … that if you believe in God and you believe in a faith, it is your moral, ethical, human obligation and duty to intervene. Enough is enough.”