San Jose builds bridge between police and lowriders
Lowriders in downtown San Jose. Photo courtesy of Steven Martinez Jr./South Bay Visions.

San Jose’s rocky relationship with lowriding is taking an unexpected turn—the city will have a police car converted into a cruise-ready piece of art.

The San Jose City Council voted Tuesday to donate a Ford Crown Victoria Interceptor to be transformed into a lowrider, a customized car with hydraulics that allow it to bounce or be lowered, hugging the road. The United Lowrider Council of San Jose will convert the car as the San Jose Police Department retires the last of its iconic patrol vehicles used since the late 1990s.

City officials said the move is an important gesture in rebuilding a relationship with the lowrider community, which has deep roots in San Jose’s Latino community. Latinos are 31% of San Jose’s population, according to the 2022 U.S. Census.

“The Crown Vic (car) project is a symbol of the collaboration that is beginning to happen between the United Lowrider Council of San Jose and our San Jose Police Department,” Councilmember Peter Ortiz told San José Spotlight.

David Polanco, president of the United Lowrider Council of San Jose, said cars have a history of creating conversations, and provide opportunities to dissolve barriers. The council is a collective of nearly 70 local lowrider clubs that hosts events including back to school fundraisers and Halloween “trunk or treats” for kids. Polanco said the collaboration on this effort between his organization, SJPD and the city has been five years in the making.

“As lowriders, we’re role models for a lot of these kids,” Polanco said at the meeting. “If we can show that positive interaction between San Jose PD and ourselves, it’s going to go a long way.”

The retired police car will be donated to the San Jose Police Historical Society, a subsidiary of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. When complete, the lowrider will be displayed as art for the community to view.

“The San Jose Police Department is committed to building relationships with our entire community,” Chief Anthony Mata told San José Spotlight. “This vehicle is one example of our continued partnership with the United Lowrider Council of San Jose and a great opportunity that will remind the public of San Jose’s historic lowriding roots.”

San Jose has been a hub for lowriding culture since its initial popularity in the 1940s. A cornerstone of lowriding culture is cruising, forbidden in the city for nearly four decades until officials overturned the “blatantly racist” ban last year—a move opposed by police.

San Jose put on its first annual Lowrider Day on Sept. 1 and lined East Santa Clara Street outside San Jose City Hall with dozens of customized cars, live music and cultural celebrations.

Lowriders in downtown San Jose on Sept. 1, 2023. Photo by Jeremy Hoang.

The fledgling relationship between lowriders and city police hit a bump in the road earlier this year on Cinco de Mayo when police, in coordination with Caltrans and California Highway Patrol, closed several highway ramps that essentially walled off the east side of the city from downtown festivities that included cruising. Local and state officials decried the policing practices as racist.

Councilmembers Ortiz, Omar Torres, Sergio Jimenez and Domingo Candelas responded to the Cinco De Mayo blockade with a memo asking for better communication about road closures near large events. Ortiz said the memo has since led to the formation of a committee between the city, the police and the United Lowrider Council of San Jose.

“(The committee is) to make sure that everybody’s aware of the festivities, get input from the police, get input from the lowriders to hopefully have a productive and peaceful Cinco de Mayo celebration,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight.

Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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