Hundreds volunteer to clean vandalism from San Jose protests
San Jose resident Vani Keil (right), with her 5-year-old daughter Sirina (left) and 3-year-old daughter Isabelle (middle), helped dozens of volunteers clean Horace Mann Elementary School across the street from San Jose City Hall.

    Hundreds lined up to volunteer outside San Jose City Hall on Tuesday to clean up graffiti downtown from the ongoing George Floyd protests.

    The supply of roughly 150 cleaning kits that staff from Beautify SJ and San Jose’s anti-graffiti and anti-litter programs distributed to volunteers ran out less than an hour after the event kicked off at 10 a.m.

    The staff resupplied kits and accepted more volunteers before running out of kits again at 11 a.m.

    Tuesday’s volunteer clean-up was the second in a series of city-coordinated efforts, which were scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

    By 10 a.m. Tuesday, almost 100 people had lined up to receive their kits containing spray bottles, pads, gloves, sanitizing wipes and face masks on the corner of East Santa Clara and Sixth Street.

    Hundreds of volunteers lined up to receive cleaning kits outside City Hall on Tuesday, exhausting city staff’s supply of roughly 150 kits within an hour. Photo by John Bricker.

    Christina Ramos, chief of staff for District 3 San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez, said a crowd of roughly 300 people used up the staff’s 150 cleaning kits an hour earlier than the 100 kits that volunteers had exhausted on Monday.

    “It was a good problem to have,” Ramos said. “However, we only have so much to go around.”

    Because city staff ran out of pick-up sticks, Ramos said, new volunteers could not pick up trash without possibly exposing themselves to illness.

    “It’s important to have the right tools so that people remain safe,” she said.

    Some said San Jose’s 8:30 p.m. curfew, which took effect Sunday evening, led to a decline in new vandalism to clean up, allowing significant progress.

    Paul Pereira, a senior policy adviser for Mayor Sam Liccardo, said he’s noticed significantly less new damage since the curfew began. Volunteers had already almost cleaned the graffiti on the walls of Horace Mann Elementary School across the street from City Hall by Monday morning.

    “Everything was completely tagged (over the weekend), and this morning, there was nothing,” Pereira said.

    San Jose resident Vani Keil, along with her daughters, 5-year-old Sirina and 3-year-old Isabelle, helped dozens of volunteers scrub the remaining graffiti off the walls of the school.

    After hearing about the opportunity to volunteer from a Facebook friend, Kiel said she second-guessed volunteering because of unrest in downtown and how young her kids are.

    “But then I thought, ‘It’s daytime,’ ” she said. “ ‘We’re going to be here early, and I’d rather do something than nothing.’”

    Keil said she was not worried about coronavirus while volunteering because she and her kids wore masks and because they would be working outdoors.

    Several volunteers said they supported the ongoing protests in downtown, part of the nationwide movement sparked by the death of Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

    As she cleaned graffiti off the walls of the elementary school, Millie Crosby, a San Jose resident and teacher in the San Jose Unified School District, said she supports the Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter movement.

    “However, the school needs to get cleaned up, so all hands on deck,” she said.

    Kerriann Otańo, a San Jose resident who volunteered with a group of performers from Opera San José, said helping clean up is a safe and organized way to help the protesters’ cause because cleaning up after protesting is just as important.

    “We just want to support the movement and the protests as much as possible,” she said.

    Ramos said all the volunteers have been eager, and that any nervousness about unrest in downtown has not kept them from helping to keep the city safe and clean.

    “I think everyone sympathizes and understands the messages that the protesters are putting out there, but they also want to make sure that our city stays clean and safe,” Ramos said.


    San Jose First United Methodist Church was covered in explicit graffiti before volunteers painted over it on Monday, Paul Pereira said. “We were just painting out some of the commentary, like the F-word and things like that,” he said. “But now we gotta go back and paint it the right color.” Photo by John Bricker.

    Ramos said Wednesday’s volunteer clean-up event has been canceled to keep people safe because of a heat wave advisory, but San Jose residents will have more opportunities to help soon.

    Pereira said the city is discussing events and projects meant to let people’s voices be heard and that future volunteer opportunities will finish the work started over the past few days.

    Contact John Bricker at [email protected] or follow him @JohnMichaelBr15 on Twitter.

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