San Jose activists Monday pushed back against top city administrators who want to squeeze them out of a process to reform police.
In a letter sent Friday to Fred Ferrer, chair of the Charter Review Commission, City Manager Jennifer Maguire advised leaving policing issues to the city’s Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory Committee, a 46-member body of leaders from different nonprofit and activist groups whose primary mission is to deal with police reform and oversight.
The commission ultimately decided not to respond to the letter at Monday’s meeting, but not before hearing from angry residents.
“I think the letter that was written by the city manager was honestly tacky and shows their hidden agendas on silencing the community,” said resident Pamela Emanuel, vice president of nonprofit group BLACK Outreach S.J. “I’m here today again to say that this is what the community wants. I don’t understand how many times we have to scream it in your face.”
In her letter, Maguire wrote that having too many city bodies analyze police reform will lead to less public engagement. She asked the topic be limited to specific entities such as the City Council, the safety advisory committee and the independent police auditor.
Maguire told San José Spotlight she simply wanted commissioners to know about other “efforts currently underway to reimagine policing in San Jose.”
“I also provided my perspective on how we might best coordinate these efforts to engage our residents on this important issue,” she said.
Commissioner Magnolia Segol, who leads a subcommittee on policing, said the letter was a “shock.” She claims Maguire did not consult her or the safety advisory committee before sending the letter, released late Friday.
“(Maguire) did not get (Reimagining Public Safety’s) permission to make public comment about their process or desires. If she had, she would have learned that the Charter Review Commission subcommittee is taking recommendations from Reimagining Public Safety,” Segol said. “The Reimagining Public Safety Committee and our subcommittee are symbiotic.”
The public safety advisory committee, formed last year in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, sought to examine issues about police reform. But the committee ran into problems, with a number of high-profile resignations due to its perceived lack of focus. The group reformed the committee in June after consulting different community groups.
Several advisory committee members worried that stopping their review of police reform would shun voices of residents and reduce oversight of police.
“The city manager says the study on police oversight is in conflict of the mission of the reimagining committee. I disagree,” said Sandra Asher, a member of the committee. “I feel strongly that our two entities should collaborate on this issue. Our communities are counting on us to work together to make a stand for true police accountability. The lives of our community depend on it.”
Activists have criticized the San Jose Police Department in recent months for issuing its officers millions of dollars in overtime pay for the past decade, its treatment of residents at Black Lives Matter protests in May 2020 and Police Chief Anthony Mata’s failure to support a transgender officer he worked with.
The Charter Review Commission has recently taken an active role in discussing police reform. It previously discussed a possible amendment to the city charter last week that pushes to include racial and social justice standards for budgets and major policy decisions to ensure groups such as racial and ethnic minorities are not disproportionately harmed by proposed laws.
“After all the trouble the community leaders went through to push for a true community-led process of the Reimagining Public Safety Committee, did the city manager issue this letter without even consulting that community-led group? If not, why not?,” Aaron Zisser, former San Jose independent police auditor, told San José Spotlight. “Given the importance of this topic and given the moment that we’re at in terms of looking at policing, why not have the topic featured prominently as part of the Charter Review process and as part of the Reimagining Public Safety Committee? The two efforts can reinforce one another.”
Though dozens of residents spoke in opposition to Maguire’s letter, a handful of speakers supported the city manager’s statements.
“I support the city manager in the sense that there is another group working on this,” said Sandra, who did not give her last name. “Let that group finish their work. If that group is dysfunctional or not working correctly, then let’s fix that committee. If you do decide to proceed, let’s make sure you get balanced input as well.”