The San José Peace and Justice Center stands in solidarity with Black communities across the nation and locally as they grieve the lives that have been lost due to racially targeted violence by law enforcement officials. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade have all been recent victims of negligent and fatal misconduct at the hands (or knees) of police officers. There are countless more that have not made national news or have gone unreported due to fear of retaliation within a broken system. Police brutality and misconduct has been a plague to Black Americans for hundreds of years, and it is being more publicized than ever in this digital age.
As an organization that serves the community, we acknowledge that these struggles are not isolated to experiences of Black Americans. Systemic racism and white supremacy impact all people of color. Especially here in Santa Clara County, there is a history of Latinx people who have lost their lives because of racially-targeted police violence. We condemn all forms of racism, white supremacy, and police brutality. We vow to work together with community members, organizations, and the rest of the nation to dismantle the oppressive structures ingrained in American society that have led to racially-motivated deaths. However, at this moment we need to lift up and center Black voices.
Within the context of this global pandemic, Black lives are not only threatened by COVID-19 and failures within the American healthcare system – they continue to be threatened by police officers, precincts, district attorneys, prosecutors, and courts which criminalize the simple act of being black. Black people have had their voices repressed and silenced by our society since the founding of our country, and current protests across the country are demanding these voices be heard. People are defying shelter-in-place orders to express their outrage fueled by ongoing racial injustice on a national scale.
The level of aggression and uninhibited use of brute force by law enforcement officials has been on full display at anti-racist protests across the nation decrying this very system that targets Black lives. Predominantly peaceful protests turn into “unlawful” assemblies when the militarized police force shows up in riot gear bearing batons, rubber bullet weapons, and gas masks and band together to disperse crowds. Officers incite violence towards protestors, failing to de-escalate the tension and provoking heated responses from protesters exercising their constitutional right to free speech.
Many instances of illegal and excessive use of force by police at these protests have been recorded and posted on the internet, though many news outlets are more publicly concerned about the businesses being looted by people who often have no connection to the protests. This highlights the fact that American society values profit and property more than Black lives. It also vilifies protesters and represses their message of demanding justice for Black people who are victims of systemic racially targeted police violence.
Implementation of curfews in cities across the country threatens the First Amendment rights of free speech and peaceful assembly and gives law enforcement officials more power to detain and arrest innocent people. A curfew in San José was announced shortly before it went into effect on Sunday night, and alerts were only sent out in English despite the city’s large ESL and non-English speaking population. It was made clear in yesterday’s City Council meeting that an indefinite curfew in San José and indiscriminate arrests will not be tolerated by residents.
SJPD Officer Jared Yuen has become infamous on the internet for antagonizing protesters on Friday, May 29th, and Police Chief Eddie Garcia has publicly excused this unacceptable behavior. This points to the lack of accountability and limitless power currently afforded to our local law enforcement officials. We, along with our fellow community members, are demanding Garcia fire Officer Yuen and resign.
The protests are about far more than recent events. The discomfort that police, elected officials, and certain community members feel about the ongoing protests is negligible compared to the consistent discomfort and fear that Black Americans feel when driving to work, jogging in the park, sleeping in their car, ordering fast food, entering in their homes, and living day to day in a country where those who are sworn to “protect and serve” are potentially life-threatening.
Our country is taking another step in the direction towards fascism, but this level of repression has been the reality for Black Americans for centuries. The resistance will not subside until the voices of people who are oppressed are truly heard and necessary changes are implemented, including defunding the police. Until all people in San José are represented equitably, there will be no justice and we do not deserve peace.