After a widespread community outcry, San Jose lawmakers approved ending the citywide curfew at 5 a.m. Thursday and requiring city administrators to seek City Council approval to reinstate it.
Under a motion by Councilmember Raul Peralez, police would still enforce the curfew Tuesday and Wednesday, but would assess how San Jose fares without it Thursday night. The move came after the city faced a barrage of criticism for restricting free speech and the police’s use of force against demonstrators protesting George Floyd’s death over the weekend. Councilmember Dev Davis cast the lone dissenting vote.
“I’m still not fully convinced that this is something that is going to be more helpful than it is antagonizing, and give people just another thing to protest,” Peralez, a former police officer who now works as a reserve officer, said about the curfew.
City Attorney Rick Doyle said that the prior curfew ordered by City Manager Dave Sykes had no time limit, another cause for concern from community leaders.
Peralez also criticized city officials for not allowing enough time for lawmakers to assess the need for a curfew before enacting it on Sunday night. Despite the 8:30 p.m. curfew, hundreds of people remained on the streets Sunday night protesting Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
Councilmember Maya Esparza criticized city leaders for not providing details about the curfew information in multiple languages.
Sykes admitted that staff was playing “catch up” in translating curfew instructions. Esparza shot back that making instructions immediately in other languages should be standard practice.
Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness said alerts about the curfew were sent to 408,000 phones, less than half of San Jose’s population.
Esparza said she did not receive a notification herself.
Also Tuesday, city lawmakers questioned Police Chief Eddie Garcia on curfew enforcement and many documented cases of the use of force against protesters. People outside past curfew hours have alleged indiscriminate arrests by officers, which prompted councilmembers to grill Garcia and city administrators on the effectiveness of the curfew.
Garcia defended the curfew and said it was a response to intel suggesting planned looting of several San Jose malls and shopping centers. In response to the alleged threats, Santa Clara city leaders also imposed a 8:30 p.m. curfew.
During public comment, people criticized the police chief for restricting people’s free speech with the curfew and failing to acknowledge violence perpetrated on protesters.
“Keep in mind the curfew was not even in place on Saturday night and the police frankly terrorized us for no good reason,” said Jessica Matthew, a protestor with Silicon Valley DSA. “The violence that Eddie Garcia talked about has been perpetuated overwhelmingly by the police at the protesters, not the other way around.”
Looters don’t follow a curfew, Peralez added.
Still, several councilmembers questioned what emergency measures can be taken if looting continues. Peralez said police officers should have the tools to stop looting without ordering everybody to go inside after dark.
Peralez included a provision in his motion to have an emergency meeting Friday morning to assess whether another curfew will be necessary.
He said he’d call for the council to meet over zoom in their “jammies,” if needed.
Esparza specifically cited concerns with looting of East San Jose shopping centers.
“Seeing Story and King (vandalized) hurt my heart and hurt the heart of a lot of Eastsiders,” Esparza said. “Standing in solidarity with the protesters does not mean we are in support of looting.”
After protesters were hit with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, lawmakers and community leaders questioned growing criticism over police brutality during protests.
Councilmember Sergio Jimenez asked Garcia how the police identify legal observers. The police chief said he did not know. Legal observers attend protests to watch interactions between demonstrators and police to report when the law is being broken.
“I have similarly observed tactics that nobody in their right mind would relate in any way to de-escalation,” said Andrew Cain, Silicon Valley Law Foundation’s directing attorney. “And that was confirmed earlier when Chief Garcia noted that moving forward, they will be looking at de-escalation.”
In a letter to the City Council, the law foundation said the citywide curfew resulted from “failed leadership, poor decision-making and inflammatory conduct from officers in response to largely peaceful protests from thousands of community members.”
Pointing out the severe coughing tear gas causes, Councilmember Sylvia Arenas asked whether Garcia has assessed the risk of transmitting coronavirus among protestors.
Garcia said the tear gas was an alternative to officers using their batons. However, several videos show police charging at protestors with their sticks.
Peralez additionally questioned Garcia on why officers did not wear N95 masks.
“The issue with being on the line with the tactical gear helmets . . . makes it nearly impossible for the officers to be wearing their N95 masks, while they’re out on the line,” Garcia said.
Councilmembers condemned Officer Jared Yuen who was seen in a now viral video licking his lips and telling a protester “shut up b—-” and questioned Garcia about why two reporters – including San José Spotlight freelancer Luke Johnson – were detained during the curfew since journalists are exempt from it.
this is evidence that the police are the aggressors in these protests pic.twitter.com/eWMLSiQ66W
— jacob (@bIndsundoll4mj) May 30, 2020
While Garcia defended the use of force, he apologized for the detainment of reporters and for previously calling Yuen a “good kid” when he defended him.
“I certainly don’t want to give the impression to my community or the nation that this conduct is condoned,” he said, adding that Internal Affairs and the Independent Police Auditor would review videos of curfew enforcement and all reported incidents.
“We will hold people accountable. We will hold officers (accountable) that are irresponsible and use excessive force,” Garcia said. “We have a use of force study that shows our body of work in this police department. That shows that we’re moving the needle.”
Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.