Though each post was blood-boiling, the line that froze my scrolling was when San Jose Police Officer Pimentel wrote, coldly, calmly and with complete ease, “Black lives don’t really matter.” He used no exclamation points, no emojis or caps to add sentiment to his statement as expected in social media vitriol — he just wrote this as something he saw as immutable truth.
I have not seen a more lethal series of five words. Because like all the other white-supremacist posts on the “10-70DSJ” Facebook page, it was by a person who has the legal authority, weaponry, and resources to take the life and liberty of Black people, Muslims, and any civilian walking the streets of San Jose.
These posts are not new revelations. San Jose officer Phillip White, after the murder of Eric Garner, tweeted, “If anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter, I will be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.” The following year, the San Jose POA put out a promotional video for “Blue Lives Matter.” In response to calls for accountability from families who lost loved ones to police, the SJPOA again went on the offensive. Sergeant Paul Kelly, in a statement to the Mercury News, said there needs to be a policy that holds “family and friends of the suspect accountable” for not intervening enough to prevent circumstances that justified the use of force incident.
And even before the Black Lives Matter movement was reshaping what justice means in this country and across the globe, the San Jose Police Officers Association launched a campaign (including a hit piece video they created through a PR firm) to call De-Bug members “terrorists” and “thugs” for demanding an end to racial profiling.
The Mayor, City officials, the Police Chief and the SJPOA should not be allowed to feign indignation now and shoehorn the narrative into being solely about a few individual officers. This isn’t about the personalities, bad or good, of individual actors — it is about having a responsive analysis to the structure, function, and role policing plays in San Jose, and how to move forward free of life-threatening racism.
The racism will not go away solely from the disciplining of the listed officers who shared their name in the Facebook group. The posts speak to a deeply ingrained police culture of racism, one that has been institutionally protected by the San Jose POA and the department as a whole — for generations.
To limit the scope of the accountability to these officers who exposed themselves would be intentionally denying this context and history and simply stalling until the next scandal is exposed or the next beating or killing is caught on camera. City officials should not be allowed to kick the can down the road - lives are at stake.
The only way to remove the racism is to fire every officer in the San Jose Police Department, dismantle the San Jose Police Department, and divert the resources to the community to imagine and create a new way of how public safety is realized for all in San Jose.
The Mayor and City Council are not comprehending (or admitting) that there are no cosmetic reforms that will make systemic racism palatable. Furthermore, a new office to study “racial equity” cannot explain away systemic racism. Ultimately, the people of San Jose deserve those very structures of systemic racism to be eliminated, that our lives depend on deconstructing the mechanisms of white supremacy that threaten us, and affording us space and resources to build a community-led vision of justice.
We said as much when there was an overwhelming, unprecedented call by thousands for the defunding of the San Jose Police Department at the San Jose City budget meetings earlier this month. The Mayor and elected officials dismissed the argument as simply an angry cry of a protest. But could not a collective outrage be both an intuitive, spiritual call, as well as the expression of a well-reasoned, experientially informed, and genuinely researched policy blueprint? Is not Black Lives Matters both an instinctive chant as well as a robust, historically reflective, political and moral north star to guide policies forward?
We submitted a “Divest in Police and Invest in Community” proposal to the City of San Jose in the run up to the budget meetings that was authored by families who lost loved ones to police, their supporting community, and young leaders who took over streets yelling Black Lives Matter. Each platform was a budgetary articulation of the most lethal aspects of the police that took the lives of loved ones of the 16 participating families. For the families of Phillip Watkins, Anthony Nuñez and Diana Showman — they called on a new form of first responders instead of police to handle mental health calls. For the family of Jacob Dominguez, they called on the elimination of covert units that operated more like a para-military unit when they assassinated an unarmed Jacob while he was sitting in his car. And to show the direct link from racist post to death -- Sergeant Sciba who was featured on the Facebook group, was also part of the MERGE unit that killed Richard Jacquez. The proposal went on to line item define how the resources should be re-allocated to the Black community and vital social services starving for support. The letter garnered over 2,600 signatories in less than fourteen hours posted and over 30 community organizations. The phrase “defund SJPD” was raised repeatedly for hours in public comment, and reflected a level of civic engagement City Hall has never previously seen.
Yet the proposal was not even honestly engaged with by the council, and was summarily side-stepped, moving the conversation to a regressive set of reforms that will do nothing to protect the community from the hate spewed on those Facebook posts. And while all racism is intolerable, when it comes from armed officers, they should be read as legitimate calls to violence by those who have the means to act upon those threats. The dismissal of the central conversation to defund the police was a direct insult to the families who went through the anguish of reliving the trauma of their loss to generate a blueprint for the future, and the young protestors whose power and courage created the atmosphere and gravity for the discussion in the first place.
Even in the face of this scandal, the Mayor is still reactively defending his position, rather than listening openly to the pleas of the people of San Jose. On Twitter, in response to well-respected public defender Sajid Khan (and a Muslim American father) who echoed the call to defund the police, the Mayor stated, “When teachers are caught saying vile things, do we defund schools, or fire the teachers responsible?” The false equivalence of a teacher to police officer with the ability to take life and liberty is so wildly ridiculous and offensive it is hardly worth responding to, but is indicative of the Mayor’s inability or unwillingness to process this moment.
The Mayor’s “9 Point Plan” is the strongest evidence of this cognitive dissonance. When I say these are regressive policies, I mean that literally — these are ideas that have been raised and failed from past eras. One of those platforms the Mayor proposes is to get youth of color to receive scholarships to become police officers — this is an idea he admits came from a former police chief Joe McNamara in the early 90’s. And he proposes this policy in the same week two school districts eliminated their contracts with the San Jose Police Department — essentially eliminating officers on school campuses. His policies are facing in the wrong direction historically.
The irony is that San Jose through recent decades has been on the front lines of police reform — which is exactly why we know through experience they don’t lead to the changes they promise. In the face of the George Floyd protests which ceased the city, the San Jose Police (and Santa Clara County Sheriffs) proudly touted how they have already implemented most of the “8CantWait” reforms. But that simply makes our point — if the city has these reforms, and people are still being killed by police, if police still threaten the lives of people on social media posts for the world to see, if the SJPOA can grab their pearls for a camera when forced to respond, while also producing “Blue Lives Matter” tribute videos — then clearly the reforms are not the vehicle to lead us where we need to go.
And as we construct what a San Jose can look like without police which is safe for all — including those of us who wear Hijabs, those of us who have darker skin, those of us who unapologetically say Black Lives Matter, those of us who lost loved ones to police violence, we also must redress the damage done by those who have been arrested, incarcerated, and abused by the officers listed in this Facebook group. Every case they have been involved in must be re-opened and re-investigated, as these officers have delegitimized the validity of those arrests.
Raj Jayadev is the Co-Coordinator of Silicon Valley De-Bug, the National Participatory Defense Network, and is a Macarthur Genius Award recipient.
(Photo by Daniel Zapien)