San Jose lawmaker faces heat after describing George Floyd protests as ‘race wars’
Protesters marched from San Jose City Hall to Highway 101 Friday after a Minneapolis Police Officer killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man. Photo by Katie Lauer.

San Jose Councilmember Pam Foley came under fire this week for saying the protests around the country against George Floyd’s death highlight people’s frustration over “race wars.”

She made the comment as lawmakers on Tuesday questioned Police Chief Eddie Garcia on San Jose’s curfew during the City Council meeting.

“People are frustrated for a lot of reasons and the protesting over the weekend just shows the level of frustration over our race, race wars and race inequities,” Foley said.

Councilmembers pressed Garcia on his officers’ enforcement of the curfew and allegations about the use of force against protesters and journalists.

Foley questioned Garcia on the behavior of Officer Jared Yuen, who was seen in a a now viral video licking his lips and telling a protester “shut up b—-.” This prompted the police chief to condemn Yuen’s actions apologize for calling him a “good kid.”

But multiple people called Foley out at the meeting and on Twitter for her remarks, prompting the lawmaker to apologize. Annie Koruga, a Silicon Valley DSA member, said the councilmember’s words were dog-whistling – the use of subtle phrasing innocuous to some, but hurtful to others.

“Pam Foley, this isn’t a race war. Stop dog-whistling, your privilege shines clear and you need to apologize,” Koruga said.

Foley released a public apology on Twitter immediately after she was criticized.

“I agree. And I have publicly apologized for the poor word choice. Like many others, I am continually learning. Please see my statement released earlier below:

“The protests are not race wars, that is not how I meant it. To everyone, I want to clarify something I said previously. I mistakenly used the term ‘race war,’ and I want folks to know that I had positive intentions.

“I meant to highlight race inequities that are prevalent across the country and here in San Jose as well. The City of San Jose has its own challenges and I want to be sure people understand that I support everyone’s right to protest peacefully,” she tweeted.

After a heated debate Tuesday, the San Jose council ultimately voted 10-1 to end the city’s curfew at 5 a.m. Thursday and require council approval to reinstate it. Councilmember Dev Davis cast the lone dissenting vote.

Most community activists said the curfew only increased tensions between protesters and San Jose police.

Contact Mauricio La Plante at mslaplante19@gmail.com or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.

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