San Jose lawmakers to propose ban on rubber bullets in crowds
Protesters clashed with San Jose police during the third day of protests Sunday over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. Photo by Luke Johnson.

A San Jose lawmaker learned someone is always listening over Zoom — and he revealed not-yet-public plans to ban rubber bullets by city police to break up crowds.

Councilmember Raul Peralez was overheard discussing a plan with Mayor Sam Liccardo to restrict rubber bullets in crowds after he left himself unmuted on Zoom during the City Council’s dinner break Tuesday.

“Because of my inability to mute myself on Zoom, a lot of what I’m working on is now coming out sooner than my memos are coming out,” Peralez told San José Spotlight late Tuesday night.

After a presentation from Special Operations Commander Capt. Jason Dwyer on the police department’s use of force during last week’s George Floyd protests, the councilmember privately shared concerns with the mayor about the harm suffered by peaceful demonstrators.

Liccardo confirmed plans to propose a ban on rubber bullets for crowd control in a tweet after Peralez let him know their conversation was broadcast on Zoom.

“Both the mayor and myself are not convinced that this is a useful or effective tool to utilize in crowded areas, when we’re just trying to disperse crowds,” Peralez said. “It also happened to cause an extensive amount of collateral damage on innocent protesters, and in my mind and the mayor’s, obviously that’s just not acceptable.”

However, the councilmember clarified that he supports rubber bullet use in other scenarios. For example, when he was a police officer, Peralez said he and a partner used 40 millimeter foam rounds to incapacitate a person charging at them with a knife instead of killing the person.

“Prior to having what they call less-than-lethal tools, officers would have just shot this person,” Peralez said.

After listening to a barrage of criticism from protesters at the City Council meeting Tuesday, Peralez reiterated his support for a proposal released last week that suggested a review of San Jose police’s use-of-force policies.

In the proposal, Peralez, Liccardo and Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco and Lan Diep called for a critical look at the policies, a report explaining why forceful tactics were used during the protests and an expansion of the authority of the city’s Independent Police Auditor.

Now Liccardo and Peralez are supporting a full-on ban of rubber bullets in crowded areas, saying the bullets can cause unintended serious injury or death.

“We’ve seen too many injured here, and studies we’ve cited suggest this is not a safe tactic,” Liccardo tweeted.

Peralez, who is a reserve officer with the San Jose Police Department, held a pragmatic view on what tools law enforcement should use in different circumstances.

Without the COVID-19 pandemic raising health concerns, Peralez would have supported the use of tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds, instead of weapons inflicting blunt-force trauma. Medical experts have warned that tear gas can make people cough or sneeze and lead to the spread of COVID-19.

In response to demands to defund the police in San Jose, the downtown councilmember said officers are still a necessary asset to the community. And while he supports allocating more funds to other resources, he said it shouldn’t be “either/or” between social services and police.

“We’re not somehow a city that’s without crime. We have had growing numbers of domestic violence incidences over the last couple years, growing numbers of rape incidences over the last couple years,” Peralez said. “(Are) there other resources that we can put toward those (crimes), absolutely. But at the end of the day, we still need police to respond to that.”

But Peralez noted that he’s open to exploring how to transform police officers’ role in society.

“There are a lot of things that (officers) . . . get called out to respond to that they also personally don’t agree should be a police response,” he said.

The councilmember plans to announce more proposed police reforms in the next few days. The City Council will continue discussions on San Jose police during a special meeting at11:30 a.m. on Friday.

Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.

 

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