Family members of San Jose men and women who were killed by local law enforcement stood in front of City Hall on Thursday afternoon. The song “A Change Is Gonna Come” played, while they held signs with black and white pictures of men and women, young and old, their hopes for these slain family members distilled in hashtags:
The rally drew a crowd of nearly a few dozen, as protesters called on San Jose’s elected officials to take a stand against local law enforcement killing people of color. Laurie Valdez, whose partner Antonio Guzman Lopez was shot by San Jose State University Police Department Sgt. Mike Santos in February 2014, led the demonstration.
“There’s no justice for any of our family members because they’re gone,” said Valdez, who called instead for justice for the next generation.
The protest was the result of ongoing grassroots efforts in San Jose to end police violence, and at some point Valdez read from a banner the names of approximately 30 people who had been killed by police in the city between 1970 and 2015. But the demonstration was carrying the message of the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement, fueled by the recent shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcoln Heights, Minnesota.
Throughout the protest, speakers underscored the need for greater transparency around complaints and investigations against officers. Independent Police Auditor Walter Katz took the mic first and urged citizens to file complaints about police misconduct with his office. The Independent Police Auditor, which is not part of SJPD, does not investigate complaints but instead provides objective review of the Police Department’s Internal Affairs investigations to determine if they are timely, thorough, fair and objective.
Because of the IPA’s independence,Katz told the audience, “if the Department uses force I won’t know about it until you file a complaint.”
“Has any officer ever been held accountable from your office’s investigations?” asked Cephus “Bobby” Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant.
Because the IPA does not directly investigate incidents, Katz explained, his office can’t take credit for officer discipline. But he said 7-10 percent of the IPA’s findings of misconduct are sustained each year.
Katz called on protesters who want greater transparency in investigations of police misconduct to fight a piece of legislation called the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights. The law makes confidential all police officer records, including discipline records, which can only be released by a judge in a criminal case or lawsuit.
“I don’t think that we should have to jump through all the hoops we have to jump through [to get officer discipline data],” said Jennifer Redding, a Santa Clara County public defender who also spoke.
Valdez seconded the sentiment, calling on the crowd to make themselves “a thorn in [City Hall’s] side” until there’s greater accountability.
“We’re not leaving until they see us here,” she cried. But by 6p.m., almost two hours into the protest, with workers streaming out of City Hall, no elected official had come out to acknowledge the protest.
That simple recognition would have gone a long way for Chandra Jacquez, whose father Richard “Harpo” Jacquez was shot by SJPD on Aug. 17, 2015.
Before the protest began she said she would have wanted elected officials or SJPD to “just reach out at least.” Instead, she feels her family’s outstanding questions about her father’s death have not been adequately answered.
Action from SJPD seems unlikely in the near future, however, in light of a statement from the San Jose Police Officers’ Association released on Jul. 17.
“When an organization only incites protests over officer involved incidents and does not display the same level of moral outrage or condemnation when a cop is innocently gunned down then we must question the legitimacy of that organization.”
Although the statement does not name Black Lives Matter, Joanne Segovia, the Association’s executive director confirmed in an email to San Jose Inside staff that it is the “organization” in question.