San Jose Officer Jared Yuen may have gone viral for taunting protesters, but his behavior—memorialized on camera for millions to see—was tame compared to his colleagues.
Since protests erupted Friday in San Jose as part of a national uprising against police brutality ignited by the public killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin, the Capital of Silicon Valley has responded with sometimes brutal force.
Tear gas choked out crowds of masked protesters of all ages. Cops shoved people to the ground with batons. They pummeled observers with rubber bullets, which left massive purple bruises on people of all ages. Reporters who were just trying to do their jobs, were detained even after they clearly identified their credentials.
Rev. Jethroe Moore II, president of the San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP, said San Jose PD escalated the violence—not the other way around.
“The kids protested and marched down the street, disrupting the system, peacefully,” he said after the first demonstration. “Then the police channeled them all the way back down and headed back down Santa Clara Street, for whatever reason.”
How the protests devolved into skirmishes and scores of arrests reflects the broader problem of failed oversight, Rev. Moore said. San Jose Independent Police Auditor Shivaun Nurre runs an office with extremely limited powers. And every effort to expand them has been met with vociferous resistance by police unions.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office is no better, if not worse. Though the Board of Supervisors created an independent monitor’s office to regulate the agency, the effort has been beset by years of delays and resistance.
“The San Jose Police Department should have independent oversight, the sheriff's department should have independent oversight,” Moore went on to say. “The question is, why do they keep bucking at independent oversight? What are they afraid of? What's inside that they don’t want people to look at? That's the question. What is it about the system they don't want people to see?”
Moore, and many other community civil rights leaders, tried facilitating peace between protesters and advancing law enforcement. But on Friday, he found himself thrown into the skirmish as officers with batons and gas masks cornered protesters from East Santa Clara and Fifth streets, around City Hall and then out of the area.
After the city’s own residents were shot and battered by cops during the initial protest against their profession’s brutality, the bruises and scrapes were still not enough for city leaders to quell the militarized police presence. Saturday brought more of the same, with SJPD clashing with people demonstrating against the police violence that killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others black and brown people.
“I saw a community particularly led by young people that were taking a courageous and righteous stance for the memory of George Floyd, for the memory of people killed locally by police violence, and a call for Black Lives Matter, a call for racial justice and honestly a call for their survival,” Raj Jayadevof Silicon Valley De-Bug said in an interview Sunday.
Noting that there was a large representation youthful protesters in the crowds throughout the weekend, Jayadev said it’s young people leading the uprisings around the country because of how deeply they’re impacted by police killings.
“Who I saw out there were young people who had had enough and were not going to sit idly by and keep watching these videos of lynchings,” Jayadev said. “I would say, too, that I also saw police officers just indiscriminately using weapons of force—firing rubber bullets, firing tear gas canisters and putting a lot of people who are there to peacefully protest in the line of fire and in danger. And at the risk of pretty severe injury.”
Videos throughout the country have surfaced of bloody protesters bludgeoned by rubber bullets and tear gas canisters and police batons.
“They’re either aiming to hurt somebody or they’re shooting into a crowd, which means they have no idea who they’re hurting and either way, it’s a lose-lose,” Jayadev said. “I thought the police were antagonizing the community. I thought they were instigating at times. I certainly saw it first hand. People would be jabbed with those baton things out of nowhere. And also verbally.”
According to the San Jose Police Department, officers made 38 arrests on Friday and 50 arrests on Saturday. On Friday the city assigned to the protest 327 SJPD officers, who teamed up with another 91 personnel from 13 outside agencies. On Saturday, there were 195 San Jose cops and 39 deputies from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.
On each day of the protests, an untold number of civilians were injured from rubber bullets, choked by tear gas and dispersed by flash bangs deployed to disperse what were meant to be peaceful gatherings. Jayadev himself got hit in the hand, and he knows several others who were hit too. People all over the country were targeted and brutalized by police for protesting police violence against community members.
While SJPD Chief Eddie Garcia condemned the behavior of one officer so far, Jayadev said the problem extends far beyond a few “bad apples.”
“The violence is endemic to that system,” he said, “and that’s what has become apparent when you look at the experiment of peaceful protest in different cities. Why is it that we’re seeing a recurring theme? It’s not like there’s something in the groundwater that’s different in New York from San Jose. ... There’s absolutely a causal link from what you and I saw downtown, what we saw Officer [Jared] Yuen do, and what we saw officers in other cities do. It is the nature of police and policing.”