Mayor, Concerned Citizens Push Back on Loaded Language Woven into San Jose PD Protest Report

When the city’s elected leaders brought the San Jose Police Department’s after-action report of the George Floyd protest up for discussion earlier this week, some of them questioned the terminology peppered throughout the 243-page document.

The post-event analysis frequently called demonstrators “rioters” and referred to those who were detained at the protests as “prisoners.”

According to San Jose Inside’s review of the document, the words “prisoners” appears 30 times, while there are three times as many mentions of “riot,” “riots” or “rioters.” References of “agitate,” “agitator” or “agitators” shows up in 20 places.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Sam Liccardo said that while he believes SJPD’s overarching narrative about responding to violence provoked by protesters, he took issue with the specific terms the department used to describe civilians in the report.

Instead of saying “prisoners,” for example,  he suggested the more neutral “detainees.”

Some of the references to “rioters” fit the context—such as when referring to people who actually engaged in violence. But in other parts of the report, police used the term to describe groups that included civilian bystanders. Most notably on Page 119.

Under a section addressing injuries to demonstrators, SJPD states: “While numerous officers documented their use of force against specific rioters, most often the rioters fled back into the crowd and were not captured. Therefore, it is not possible to quantify the exact number of injuries sustained by participants.”

The phrasing suggests that only “rioters” sustained injury, which is far from true.

Derrick Sanderlin, an activist who used to teach SJPD recruits to keep their subconscious biases in check, was struck in the groin by a rubber bullet while raising his hands in a plea for officers to stop shooting.

Former San Jose Planning Commissioner Peter Allen suffered a football-sized bruise on his thigh from the same kind of projectile while observing the protest from the sidewalk. Shante Thomas was struck in the chest while peering out the window of her apartment across from City Hall. Adira Sharkey was hit while walking away from the chaos.

The after-action is SJPD’s self-examination of its highly controversial protest response. And to its credit, the analysis acknowledges some of the department’s shortcomings, such as a lack of training and preparation.

That it also includes so much presumptive rhetoric speaks to how normalized it is among the rank-and-file and the command staff calling the shots.

Records obtained exclusively by San Jose Inside suggest that SJPD referred to the protests as “rioters” as a matter of course.

In a June 1 email to SJPD Division Manager Lisa Perez titled “VIS Code? Floyd Riots,” Lt. Rob Imobersteg writes (emphasis added):

Good Morning Lisa,

Over the weekend and going forward we (BFO) are incurring overtime associated to the Floyd Riots and associated events in San Jose. Many officers and supervisors have inquired if they should be using a specific ViS Code and/or should it be for pay or comp.

Please advise how you would like this handled on time sheets. Thank you,

Lieutenant Rob Imobersteg #3054

BFO Admin Unit

A May 30 email sent by Sgt. Joshua Erbes ro Lt. Douglas Wedge and Capt. Jason Dwyer was “riot footage” and offered to provide video to refute journalistic accounts that the protests comprised mostly peaceful participants.

Doug,

We have all the footage from AIR3 on a thumb drive if anyone needs it. It can clearly refute any media narratives that the protest was peaceful or that the police were the aggressors. Just in case.

Sergeant Joshua Erbes #3633
Bureau of Field Operations, Air Support Unit

During the council meeting earlier this week, several members of the public echoed the mayor’s concerns about the way police described the protests.

Most of the 70-plus people cited and released or arrested for breaking curfew or other protest-related violations won’t even get prosecuted, some of the speakers pointed out. So calling them “prisoners” in an official record isn’t even accurate.

Iheoma Umez-Eronini, who organized one of the protests a few months ago on behalf of The River Church Community, said the report’s framing undermines public trust by using  “incendiary language throughout.”

Liccardo agreed.

“Given the fact that many of the folks who were taken into custody were not charged with a crime I would just ask for consideration of how we supplant that term as to how we refer to them arrestees or something of that nature,” he said at the Tuesday meeting.

When asked by the mayor why SJPD chose the term “prisoner,” for example, Acting Chief Dave Knopf said that's because it’s “common terminology.”

Liccardo also pushed back on Knopf conflating protesters simply present after an unlawful assembly declaration with “violent assailants.”

“I think there’s a very big distinction between those who were unlawfully present and those who were violent assailants,” the mayor said. “I think we both know people who got hit who were not ‘violent assailants’ and perhaps they were standing there—they might’ve been yelling, they might’ve been jeering, they may have been unlawfully present—but they still got hit. And there’s a very big distinction between the two.”

Knopf batted away the mayor’s critique, saying the people who remained on the scene “chose to stay in a riotous situation.”

Though the mayor didn’t advise Knopf about his use of the word “riot,” or variations thereof, he did suggest avoiding the term “prisoners” going forward.

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

10 Comments

  1. > The post-event analysis frequently called demonstrators “rioters” and referred to those who were detained at the protests as “prisoners.”

    San Jose Inside journalists frequently called the rioters “peaceful protesters”.

  2. This is a Video of the march down Santa Clara street on May 31st 2020. This was pretty much the start of the Civil Unrest in the City of San Jose.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08TBL7vl654&t=234s

    This is a Video (Multiple Vids) of the start of the “Unlawful Assembly” being ordered by the San Jose Police Department on Santa Clara Street.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzB7ZIebjus&t=457sy

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16bW-6FnuUg&t=5s

    Video of the “So Called Bank Robbery” that never happened on 4th and San Fernando and the aftermath of the Motorcycle Cop hitting a kid that was being chased like a rat…..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hs5Cq7tcFh8&t=325s

    Video of San Jose State students being chased like rats the opposite direction of campus (With a Tank, Rubber Bullet Hand Cannon’s, and Motorcycle Missiles)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qCBuULM4yA&t=100s

    Video of being dumped at the Great Mall in Milpitas for filming police misconduct. (Other Legal Observers and Journalist where dumped at Eastridge Mall with No Running Transit)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVP0dkmHfp4&t=43s

    Video of the “So Called” Laser pointing at the Ghetto Bird that was a HOAX…. SJPD showed up and dam near started a RIOT arresting Local Activist and Author Dr. Sharat Lin. !!!! Over a Laser Light Show that was projected on the side of a 3 story wall at San Jose City Hall.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbEHU5M5P-4

    Video of how Legal Observers, Press, Social Workers, Homeless Advocates, Mental Health Clinicians, Faith Leaders, Politicians, etc. are treated by the San Jose Police Department and told to leave or be arrested. This shows how damaged the relationship has been between the public and the police in the City of San Jose. Most of the people in the Video below where arrested and dumped in other cities (The Great Mall and Eastridge Mall)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnft0Fqehhk&t=17s

    This was not a Portland or a Seattle gig folks…. Very sad that the San Jose Police Department cannot take responsibility for their bad behavior. Video after Video are coming forward with more outright acts of misconduct at the hands of the “800 Pound Gorilla” SJPD

    More videos below for the public to review and make their own conclusions.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaNghoYtdZE&t=48s

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qf-qsVK1Utw&t=22s

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Qzg4O0ogZo&t=39s

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXYehYP_VjY&t=24s

  3. This was not a Portland or a Seattle gig folks….

    And the citizens of San Jose want the local law enforcement authorities to keep it that way.

    You sound like some sort of whiny trust fund kid. At any point in your pampered life did you ever learn about the rule of law? Or, were you always told by your Dr. Spock parents that you were special and the rules didn’t apply to you?

  4. Prisoners are people who have been arrested. Detainees are detained and then are either released or arrested. Once they are arrested, they go from detainee to prisoner. In regards to using the word rioters, that’s the correct term for people who are rioting. If what occurred downtown wasn’t a riot, there wouldn’t have been a need for the SJPD to call for mutual aid. If it wasn’t a riot, there would have been no need for tear gas and rubber bullets. Who was throwing rocks, bottles, and bricks at the police that drew such a response? They’re called rioters.

  5. Portland’s mayor is also its police commissioner. Be thankful San Jose’s mayor does not have the same level of authority over our city’s police department, because it is plain by his words and actions that our current mayor (just like Portland’s mayor) is weak and feckless and lacks the leadership to ensure law and order.

  6. Rioter should be called what they are.

    This was such an obvious case of agitation, the whole point was to get the money shot, the black eye. The one you can’t unsee. They went, they chucked, they blacked. Mission accomplished, hats off you got the Chief to quit, congrats. We couldn’t.

  7. Scott, thank you for always recording videos of public events. I have personally see you recording. From your post I would only change something. I would replace the 800 Pound Gorilla SJPD for 800 Pound Pig SJPD!

  8. Is this really the best you journalists can do? Do you even hear yourselves? If the police had referred to violent, vandalizing, looting pillaging anarchist scum as looting pillaging anarchist scum, you “might”, just maybe barely, have something noteworthy. What term would you prefer the police apply to the people who vandalized and spray painted graffiti on Liccardo’s house? Freelance, avant garde exterior decorators? What would you call a “protestor” who sets fire to a trash can, or some city property, a “conscientious combustioner” or an “exothermic objector? What is an illegal alien then, someone who suffers from “external, posterior spinal area hydration”?

    Come back when you have some actual misconduct to report. The police didn’t arrest protestors. They arrested those who committed criminal acts. This isn’t Berkeley in the 60’s, much as I’m sure you’d like it to be so you would have something exciting to report. It must be difficult to have to try to find something nasty to report on when you are dealing with the most professional police Department in the country. Why don’t you just do what so many of the other news outlets do, just make it up so you can go to tell all your college indoctrinated friends how “you were there!”.

    Combing through police reports and trying to find “insensitive” (!?!) terms to report, as if that was evidence of police misconduct (good grief), is the journalistic equivalent of digging through dumpsters looking for cans and bottles then complaining how littered the streets are.

  9. Still waiting for SJPD on this attack by SJPD officer on handcuffed and prone person. He was knee dropped on his neck.
    https://twitter.com/chrisbrooklier/status/1266538992561868800?s=21

    And again in SLO-MO:
    https://twitter.com/fixinitallyall/status/1267011872185696257/video/1

    Some of us are old enough to remember Kent State. We do not want to see anything like that ever again. The rights of the citizens to protest to their government and the right to assembly shall not be denied or abridged. We have certain rights which the police or government must uphold, lest we become a Police State.

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment

    In the case of the citizens of San Jose Protesting against police brutality in other parts of the country were met by SJPD with the very same punishing brutality which the citizens were then protesting against.

    SJPD took it personally and acted out unprofessionally. We expect more from our police and government. We the people look forward to more dialog between the citizens and the Police Department of this The City of San Jose, California USA! We expect our elected government to uphold our Civil Rights instead of suppressing them. For it is the people by which this republic stands. Any totalitarian government is neither authorized or accepted by the people of this City, State, and Country.

  10. Mr. Sullivan, Even with the poor camera angle, obstructions, and the quality of the video, anyone who looks at this footage with any type of a critical, objective perspective can see that there was no “knee drop” (you have been watching too much WWE) and no “attack” on any prone person. Go frame by frame. The man’s head barely touches the ground for but a few frames.

    And you mention Kent State? What planet were you on when you saw that incident, Mars? There are no National Guardsman with rifles there at the San Jose demonstration/riot. The SJPD officers are all using riot sticks and even those sparingly. I won’t insult you by pretending you actually meant anything that you said. If you are some sort of cop hater just admit it and go buy a couple of large fire extinguishers and large sheets of plywood to board up your windows, better yet, move to Portland if you don’t see that San Jose PD is handling the situation in a professional, effective manner.

    Kent State ?!? What have you been smoking?!?

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