Wilson: An open letter to San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia
Protesters faced off with a line of San Jose police officers in the third day of protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis. File photo.

Dear Chief Eddie Garcia,

I find myself enraged, exhausted and emotionally broken in the midst of social unrest from yet another public execution of a black man by state sanctioned officers. And I’m further enraged by San Jose leadership’s failure to recognize their own role in perpetuating said conditions seen across the country.

I am not an activist or representing any specific group. I am black man who loves San Jose. I am an advocate of the local arts, I work in supporting local San Jose-based businesses, and I do what I can to cultivate an inclusive space with fellow creatives.

I met you once at a Barbershop Talk discussion you held with officers and San Jose State students after the slaying of Philando Castile. The gesture was appreciated and the discussion felt honest, but ultimately I left the experience feeling hollow and disillusioned of the possibility of police enacting structural change. I felt the same hollowness as I watched your PR video response to George Floyd’s execution —filled with banal platitudes, b-roll footage of Floyd’s execution and the absolute bare minimum language to appease vaguely liberal citizens.

I expect this kind of performative PR from a tech company, but not from a chief of police who co-opts the pain of a black pastor as a prop to refer to your officers as “Angels of The City.” You’re not angels, and you’re not fighting a holy crusade of “good and evil.” Your “angels” are maintaining, enforcing and perpetuating socioeconomic conditions that have long plagued black, brown and working class communities for decades. The toll of this crusade is multifaceted and has taken a mental toll on both our citizens and enforcers of class racism.

Before this pandemic, my friends and folks in the community put on shows and events, conducted volunteer work, connected with local businesses and strived to provide safe, inclusive all-ages spaces for young people. In the absence of these spaces, I worry for the mental and physical well-being of these communities and how all of this trauma will affect them psychologically and socioeconomically.

I did not expect my first interactions with the community after the COVID-19 lockdown to be a protest, much less a peaceful protest turned violent by seemingly trigger-happy and aggressive SJPD officers. Tear gas — a chemical weapon considered illegal to use during wartime — was used to disperse crowds of peaceful protestors, even as health experts urge police to stop using tear gas during the pandemic to prevent spread. Rubber bullets –which can kill, maim and cause permanent bodily damage — were shot at protesters. A friend of mine and staple musician in the community was shot in the eye, leaving him nearly permanently blinded, as he was playing guitar in the crowd as a form of peaceful protest. It felt clear to me that militant posturing and concern for property was prioritized over the well-being of the active youth and community leaders who are this city’s future.

You and the mayor are guilty of amplifying the narrative of violent protesters and vandalism while ignoring the socioeconomic circumstances and downplaying the police’s role in provoking said conditions. Sending a militarized police force and SWAT to face protesters who haven’t gravely harmed a single officer is shocking and disappointing. It is intentionally deceptive to promote a narrative of instilling “law & order” when that order militarizes police and sets curfews that disproportionately affect working class communities. Your leadership will determine the future of this city’s relationship with police for years to come. I ask you, honestly: How do you see this benefiting the city? Its people? What part of this shows advocacy and representation for this community?

Apologizing and backpedaling on curfews are half-measures that ignore the systemic reasons why the protests are still going strong and now San Joseans have to worry that they will be pulled over by an officer like Jared Yuen. He is a nationally trending topic and the spotlight is on you and your officer. Will your legacy in this moment be supporting unapologetically violent officers- or will you implement a new era of accountability? Accountability that does not sweep officers like Yuen under the rug. Especially when our taxes go to Yuen and other officers upwards of $200,000 a year while thousands of San Joseans have been unemployed for months.

Our police force needs empathetic, well-adjusted adults with the sense and training to de-escalate sensitive situations instead of antagonizing people exercising their First Amendment right. The deaths of George Floyd and other victims of police violence did not “tarnish your badge” as you said; it is the legacy of the badge. And the legacy of SJPD is being shaped by you in the midst of this historic moment. As the chief of the tenth largest city in the United States, and third most diverse, I urge you to take the opportunity to accomplish something much more substantial:

  • A zero tolerance approach regarding police violence and conduct
  • De-escalation tactics to reinforce in police training
  • Eliminate the warrior mindset
  • Strengthen the police auditor
  • Demilitarize SJPD immediately

You spoke in your PR video about how your superiors failed you in deconstructing the conditions which caused the unrest and anger in the 1992 LA riots. You are failing to honestly recognize the conditions that created this outrage in your own city. Without making substantial change, we will be back here again in a few years. Only the next time, San Jose could be the city in national news and the name being chanted in the streets could be mine.

I hope you stand with the community you swore to protect and defend and lead for substantial reform. You owe it to us.

Sincerely,

“A Good Kid”

Isaiah Wilson

Isaiah Wilson is a local community organizer and artist based in San Jose. This letter was co-written, edited and reviewed by Lana Cosic, Dima Ifeishat, Riley McShane, David Wilson and Ellina Yin.

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