Police, Press and Perception

As complaints about the San Jose Police Department’s use of force play out in both the traditional and the social media spheres, calls continue for the resignation of “the man we all love to hate,” as state NAACP president Alice Huffman introduced San Jose’s police chief at a community event on Saturday, Dec. 5.

For Rob Davis, who is fighting to keep his job, winning this latest round means shifting attention away from the actions of his officers and towards a more nuanced discussion about public policy, community attitudes, media missteps and the ambiguity of grainy video clips.

Billed as a “Courageous Conversation on Race,” Saturday’s forum was organized by the NAACP’s San Jose/Silicon Valley chapter, the same group whose president, Pastor Jethroe Moore II, called for Davis to step down in a Nov. 18 newspaper opinion piece. Panelists at the Mexican Heritage Plaza event included District Attorney Dolores Carr, San Jose Councilmember Ash Kalra, former councilmember and ex–NAACP president Forrest Williams, educator Wiggsy Silversten and Victor Garza, who chairs the county’s coalition of Latino organizations.

Moderating the afternoon discussion on the crisis in relations between the police force and the city’s ethnic communities, Huffman read a statement submitted by 2008 Independent Police Auditor Advisory Committee members Alfredo Villaseñor and Sofia Mendoza: “There seems to be a perception in the minority community that the SJPD have caused serious harm, many arrests and fatalities to the people of color in San Jose.” A round of applause greeted the statement.

Davis then took the mic and launched into an eloquent, empathetic response, the kind that will buy him time until the next YouTube video, his retirement eligibility or another high profile law enforcement job.

“Let’s be very clear,” he said, “We are not perfect. We are not perfect, and this is not an easy job that we ask our men and women to do.

“There is no other job that receives as much scrutiny as that of being a police officer in this country. None. We accept that, and we continue to do our jobs because we know that there are those moments where we can help make a difference in our community.

“It concerns me, obviously, when people say there has been a breakdown, that there are members of the minority community who do not trust us. But, I also have to say that we are doing what we can to try and address those issues.”

SJPD’s troubles date back at least a year, when the San Jose Mercury News published a series of articles concluding that Latinos were disproportionately impacted by discretionary drunk-in-public arrests. That was followed with another series this September deconstructing the department’s practices.

The confidence gap grew in October, when the Merc posted a cell-phone video to its website showing officers whacking Phuong Ho with batons on the hallway floor of his apartment as the unarmed, clueless, crying college student begged to pick up his glasses. A roommate called police after Phuong earlier brandished a kitchen knife in a soap-splashed steak squabble.

The Merc followed with another series of articles that attempted to show that the SJPD initiates force during an inordinate number of arrests. Week after week, the newspaper has unveiled new allegations against the department, most recently on Nov. 29 in an examination of Steven Payne Jr., one of the officers in the Phuong Ho case.

As activists and daily newspaperdom seem to want nothing less than a head on a stick, city government has responded in the way it frequently does: memorandums, reviews, task forces and hearings.

At last week’s council meeting, Davis presented a report laying out current efforts to review his officers’ use of force, which include a task force review of 200 resisting-arrest reports by the city auditor, the city manager and the independent police auditor.

Spin Patrol

Bobby Lopez, president of the San Jose Police Officers Association, became so convinced that the force was receiving unfair coverage from the daily newspaper, he took the unusual step of paying a political consultant to launch a website, ProtectSanJose.com.

A week after the publication of the Merc’s October use-of-force series, which nostalgically referred to former Police Chief Joseph McNamara, the former chef himself wrote a opinion piece for Protect San Jose taking aim the newspaper’s drumbeat of criticism. “Recent coverage of the San Jose Police Department was biased and unfair to what is probably the best large-city police department in the nation,” McNamara wrote. The Merc ran the piece on its op-ed page.

“They are stirring the fire, they are throwing the gasoline on it, then they are blaming the person who got burned,” says Lopez. “We are being unfairly scrutinized, and the San Jose Mercury has been wrong.

“My fear is that with the activists and the Mercury News continually bombarding us, if you say something enough times, people begin to believe it. And that’s the problem with what’s happening.”

San Jose District 2 Councilman Kalra, who has led the council charge to examine use-of-force issues, says he and his colleagues have had to work around the coverage of the issue in order to get the real facts.

“It’s been one-sided in the sense that all the news that’s been coming out and all the facts that have been highlighted are the negative facts, that’s for certain,” Kalra, a former public defender, says.

“At the same time, those facts and those numbers we should be concerned about. Not necessarily because of what they say about our police department, but because of the perception that they may leave with the community.”

Following the Mercury News reports, the City Council brought in the Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity (CPLE) to research claims of police bias against minorities.

UCLA social psychologist Phillip Goff, who helps direct CPLE, presented his quarterly findings to the San Jose Public Safety Committee on Nov. 19. His early findings uncovered no bias in the San Jose Police Department.

Goff’s remarks surprised many at the meeting and drew the attention of the City Council, the POA and others tracking the debate.

Raj Jayadev, a journalist and activist who attended the Public Safety Committee, expressed amazement at Goff’s conclusions.

“The CPLE parachutes in and says, ‘Actually, you know what, there was never a problem, no racial bias.’” Jayadev says. He calls the CPLE’s findings so preliminary and incomplete that they should not have been introduced to the committee at all.

The Merc, for its part, did not focus on the CPLE’s preliminary findings. Instead, reporter Sean Webby noted that the group’s research “showed a ‘significant concern’ among black and Latino residents ... that the police department was ‘a haven of racially biased police.’”

Lopez believes that the newspaper, in spotlighting the most negative aspects of a mostly positive report, once again revealed its anti-cop slant. Mercury News managing editor Bert Robinson defends the newspaper’s coverage.

“I think we’ve been very fair,” Robinson says. “We’ve bent over backwards to put the police perspective on the public drunkenness issues, on the use-of-force issues. But I think that there are certainly people who would prefer we don’t write about these issues at all.”

The Chief Makes A Vow

At last Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council approved a $97,500 settlement to two men, Ascension Calderon and Samuel Santana, who contended that they’d been the victims of excessive force and false arrest at the hands of the SJPD in 2006.

La Raza Roundtable chairman Garza says he supported the two men in their claim.

At Saturday’s Conversation on Race, Garza weathered criticism for not joining the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP chapter, the Asian Law Alliance, Silicon Valley De-Bug, La Raza Lawyers and other local groups in calling for Davis’ ouster.

“I believe we should try and make every effort to work within the system and with the system by having meetings on a regular basis and following up,” Garza says. “My experience has been that we are much more successful doing that than by attempting to embarrass [the police department] publicly.”

“How can you be impartial with the police chief and the mayor when it appears you have a close, personal relationship with them when they attend and support you at the Raza Roundtable meetings?” Villaseñor and Mendoza asked Garza, via written question.

Davis jumped in to give a response to the pointed question.

“Victor does not always agree with Rob Davis,” the chief said. “I guarantee you there have been a number of times where he’ll say, ‘I disagree with you, chief.’ But what Victor Garza also will do is say, ‘How is [it] that the two of us can sit down and try to figure out a way to solve the problem.’”

Davis went on to praise his officers but stopped short of denying that a problem exists. The problem, in Davis’ eyes, is one of perception.

“That doesn’t mean that at any given moment, based upon videotaped incidents or a particular crime or statistics that may come out, that the community won’t question what we do,” he said. “But I’m going to challenge the people of the community to recognize that it is not just the police department that has a responsibility to address the issues of racism. It’s not good enough to simply do the complaining. You’ve got to do more. Sit down at the table. You’ve got to be part of the solution. We’re willing to do that. We’re all ears. We will be there. That’s what we do.”

28 Comments

    • Oh! Johnmichael O’Connor our bad.

      Didn’t you read the article? J.O He had what appeared to be a real handgun. What’s an officer to do. Read him the new Rights.

      Our condolencese to the family.

    • Don’t forget the death-by-shooting of a young white man who apparently declined to stop his pick-up truck in Santa Clara on 1/4/05.  Rather than shoot out his tires, numerous bullets were shot directly into his body by the local Santa Clara police.

      Oh, I forgot.  Just another case of suicide by cop.

  1. Chief says that his department is not perfect, we the citizens of San Jose know this all too well.
    This article also states that since the Mercury News issued the report of arrests of Latino, Blacks charged with DUI, Resisting Arrest has cause the citizens to mistrust the SJPD.
    The SJPD’s troubles doesn’t go back a year ago, it goes back several years. Go to City Hall Meetings and view the testimony on the Website of hundreds of citizens who continualy get harrased or arrested by SJ Officers. One that stands out is the youth by the name of Jaime. He stated that year after year he keeps getting pulled over and has his car searched as if he were a criminal. He stated that he is sorry that he appears this way. He is Latino. He said my parents made me this way. “I am a law biding citizen with no record and drive a nice car but it continues”. It is degrading. He goes on to say “I am so fed up with how he is treated he stated he isn’t going comply should he get stopped again. I hope he is still out there and doing well. How fed up can one man be.
    It really puzzles me how these abusing officer can get away with their tactics when senior officer are standing by and don’t speak up.
    I on the other hand could give you incidents after incidents with dealings with SJPD.
    I can’t discuss all that transpire in the case as a settlement was given but after the altercation my son was injured downtown at closing time. He was a innocent bystander and got popped. Bleeding profusely his friends tried to stop a police vehicle with two officer driving by, instead of stopping to assist they tell my sons friends to “shut up and get him medical assistance.” and drove off leaving my son in his condition. It was good advice but where was the “protect and serve” part of the job.
    The last thing thing my son saw of the police unit was the tailights signal making a right turn as it drove downtown and left a lasting memory.
    This son of mine was in the procees of attending Evergreen to take Law Enforcement classes to become a Police Officer.! Not anymore.
    I have another son who was contacted by a public defender and an Attorney who call us and asked if he would testify against an officer who had also used force on another person downtown.
    He asked my oppinion, and thought to myself if this officer did this to my son in uniform imagine what he is capable of doing out of uniform.
    I as well a many citizen have several incidents we could share but would rather to see the SJPD get cleaned up and put all this madness behind us.
    Power Point Statistic, being all ears for us, sitting at the some table discussing the issue or smooth talking will not solve this problem. Clean House, Dissapline or Resign.
    Ludwig

    • Ludwig,
      Most people go a lifetime without incidents such as your 2 sons had downtown. Quit blaming the police for your son’s poor decisions and that they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You are a microcosm of the individuals comprising the above “community” organizations. You have an axe to grind with the police and rather than you or your sons taking personal responsibility you would rather blame the police. Most of our community supports SJPD and has never been in one let alone two incidents such as your sons did. If your son did get some settlement, which I question, it does not mean he did nothing wrong. Unfortunately, it is just a lot cheaper for the city to pay out a few dollars rather than take a case all the way through the court process.

    • Ludwig you said, “I can’t discuss all that transpire in the case as a settlement was given but after the altercation my son was injured downtown at closing time.”

      If you signed an agreement not to discuss this case because you received a settlement, then aren’t you in violation of that agreement by posting this? And if your sons were so badly harmed by SJPD, why would you settle for money instead of fighting for justice?

  2. Jessica,

    I think your article is a load of biased crap. The only problem is that Davis tries to appease those who hate the police and can never make happy, while ignoring the majority of the public who support the police. He has also alienated his officers by trying to appease those who hate the police. The media is pathetic in not providing balanced reporting.

    • Steve, you are so right! She used a lot of quotes, but is not above putting her spin on a situation in her own word like the following:

      “The confidence gap grew in October, when the Merc posted a cell-phone video to its website showing officers whacking Phuong Ho with batons on the hallway floor of his apartment as the unarmed, clueless, crying college student begged to pick up his glasses. A roommate called police after Phuong earlier brandished a kitchen knife in a soap-splashed steak squabble.”

  3. Jessica,
    Your article is very disappointing to me. I don’t see a link to Ed Rast’s columns on Protect San Jose proving the Merc’s figures untrue.

    Here are a few quotes from Walter Cronkite. He was a very beloved, HONEST, and much trusted journalist. I think you “reporters” and Editors could learn a lot from him:

    He said,
    “In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.” Walter Cronkite

    “Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.”
    Walter Cronkite

    “Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.”
    Walter Cronkite

    “I am dumbfounded that there hasn’t been a crackdown with the libel and slander laws on some of these would-be writers and reporters on the Internet.”

    To the Metro and other media:
    Not all of us are brain dead. Instead of regurgitating the same misinformation and supporting hatred of our Chief and the Police, your articles should challenged the Merc’s reporting of this issue, their stats, and give both sides of the story/issue without bias.

    As Walter also said:
    “I think it is absolutely essential in a democracy to have competition in the media, a lot of competition, and we seem to be moving away from that.”

    Educate yourself Jessica:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_bias

    • > Here are a few quotes from Walter Cronkite. He was a very beloved, HONEST, and much trusted journalist.

      Some sycophant in the media once dubbed Uncle Walter “the most trusted man in America”.

      However, subsequent events eventually demonstrated that Uncle Walter was a liar and a closet “one world government” type.  Notoriously, he declared the North Vietnamese “Tet” offensive to be a defeat for the U.S. and South Vietnam, when in fact it was a military victory for the U.S. and South Vietnam and a devastating defeat for the North Vietnamese.

      Uncle Walter single handedly turned a U.S. victory into a propaganda defeat.

      In an earlier, more honest era, he would have been described as a “fellow traveler” or a “stooge”.

      Today, outside of the feverswamps of the utopian left, any reference to Cronkite as “the most trusted man in America” is purely sarcasm.

      If you don’t grasp that it is sarcasm, heaven help you.

      • Doofinator,

        I truly hope you are the one who is being sarcastic. Are you truly so naive as to think that the U.S. had any chance to “win” the war in Vietnam — a war the Vietnamese people did not ask for, a war that we exacerbated with the help of the French colonials before us?

        Walter Cronkite should be commended for his honesty and bravery in the face of blatantly and falsely optimistic propaganda from the Pentagon and the White House. This is a war that we never should have fought, and if Mr. Cronkite helped turn the tide of public opinion against American engagement, all the more reason to celebrate his legacy.

        As a side note, I’m curious to hear how you’d qualify the Tet Offensive as a victory for U.S. and ARVN forces. Have you actually read a book before, or were you there?

        Sincerely yours,

        The Ghost of John Paul Vann

      • The Truthful, Moderate and Respected Doofinator, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Being an anti-wart advocate certainly doesn’t make you a liar. My Father fought in Vietnam and I hate to tell you this but we LOST that war. It was a war that never should have taken place~

        And if you don’t understand WC’s quotes and the importance of what he is conveying when it comes to properly reporting the news, heaven help you. Even people we don’t like or agree with in this world can be correct in their perceptions of some things, and Walter was right on in his view of bias/yellow journalism.

  4. Steve and Bobby Lopez of SJPOA:

    Criticizing the SJPD as the Mercury has been doing over the last year may interfere in the SJPD’s Public Relations plans, but your decision to dismiss it as bias is not going to be shared by most people in this community.

    Having the Chief and SJPD cheerleaders talk about wanting critics to come and sit at the table to find solutions is disingenuous since the solutions that are necessary to address racially disproportionate arrests for public intoxication, resisting arrest charges, and use of force clearly will require independent mechanisms for holding the department and individual police accountable for their behavior. That is not something that can be solved by chitchatting with the Chief and “reasonably compromising to accept the status-quo”. Internal Affairs, the Chief, and the POA all agree, there is no problem, so what is the point of bringing complaints to any of them? It will require removing every politician who rubber stamps police abuse as “unfortunate but necessary” so that they can fire Davis or any other police official who stands in the way of holding individual officers and the police department at large accountable.

    • Downtownster,

      I don’t mean this in any disrepectful way, but why don’t you start by educating yourself on the facts and then come back and talk from a point of fact? Ed Rast, a writer for Protect San Jose has torn apart the stats the Merc is using to incite people like you into thinking the problem lies with the Police and only the Police.

      Please go to: http://protectsanjose.com/ and read ALL of Ed Rasts columns and look at the FACTS. Then let’s have a real conversation on the real problem.

      Then read this excellent article written by Zainib Ahmad. By educating one’s self like she has on both sides of the story, effective change can begin.

      “Zainib Ahmad is a mother of two, writer and community volunteer who lives in Lino Lakes”

      http://engagemn.com/2008/05/23/policing-our-attitudes-about-the-police/

  5. Kathleen,

    What problems do you, Ed Rast, or Zainib Ahmad have with holding the SJPD and individual officers accountable for their actions?

    Regarding the facts in Ed Rast’s article, he still cannot explain away the racially disproportionate arrest rates of Latinos and Blacks for SJPD’s discretionary arrests and for people who oppose white supremacy, they are extremely disturbing.

    • Downtownster,

      A committee appointed by the city council and headed up by a social scientist studied the SJPD and found they show no racial bias in their arrests. This received absolutely no coverage in the media aside from this article.

      http://kliv.com/pages/5724318.php?

    • Maybe there’s a more accurate and disturbing answer:  the arrests reflect a social and cultural problem.  Anyone want to suggest we arrest the same number of people in the Rosegarden to balance the stats?

    • Downtownster asks,
      “Kathleen,
      What problems do you, Ed Rast, or Zainib Ahmad have with holding the SJPD and individual officers accountable for their actions?”

      I can only speak for myself here, but you are again making serious inaccurate assumptions in thinking that I don’t believe in accountability for EVERYONE, the Police included. The facts don’t support your or the Merc’s conclusions about UNFAIR disproportionate arrests of minorities. Do you truly think that is what we mean by showing another side of the story? What is your problem with Ms. Ahmad’s willingness to educate herself and re-think her skewed beliefs about Police practices? 

      “Regarding the facts in Ed Rast’s article, he still cannot explain away the racially disproportionate arrest rates of Latinos and Blacks for SJPD’s discretionary arrests and for people who oppose white supremacy, they are extremely disturbing.”

      Ed Rast has proven the Merc wrong. You are the one who seems unwilling to believe the stats he’s provided to be indisputable, and unwilling to concede that you just might be wrong in your perception of this issue. San Jose is NOT a city that arrests the most Latinos.

      Please show us otherwise with credible sources. I’d like to see where you are getting your information from, and PLEASE don’t quote the Merc.

      I worked with youth offenders and I can tell you that 90% of them are of color and ADMIT that they committed the crimes they’ve been arrested for. Why do you continually refuse to admit that minorities are committing crimes at a higher rate, and why do you refuse to open your mind to the possibility that EVERYONE has a responsibility to start talking about the realities of what is driving minorities to commit crimes, and then hide behind supposed excessive force by the Police, and the race card to get out of trouble?

      Your unwillingness to even look at this is “extremely disturbing to me.” Refusal to address the facts is the very reason behind why change is not ever going to happen. While everyone is politicking and pushing their agendas, our kids are joining gangs, dying in the streets, becoming drug and alcohol addicts, committing suicide under trains, dropping out of high school, and having babies on welfare! Doesn’t that matter to you?

      • Kathleen,

        The only error that I am aware that Ed Rast has pointed out was in the 10/31/09 article where Webby states that “…San Jose charges far more people with resisting arrest, compared with its population, than any other major California city…” Webby is incorrect since that dubious distinction clearly goes to Fresno, with double the rate. However the rest of Webby’s sentence “…a disproportionate number of those charged are Latino residents” is correct.

        Mr. Rast’s article “Understanding the Problem” links to a table with information including the following:  64% of the resisting arrest charges were filed against Latinos who make up 30.2% of San Jose’s population. That means that Latinos are overrepresented by more than double even with Rast’s numbers. Is there some other part of Rast’s numbers that you feel demonstrates that anti-Latino or anti-Black racism does not exist in San Jose?

        Ed Rast’s success in pointing out an inaccuracy was limited to that inaccuracy (Fresno’s resisting arrest rate vs. San Jose’s). Racially disproportionate arrest rates for discretionary offenses (ones where the police report is the only evidence aka “attitude arrests”) cannot be whitewashed away. They certainly are not invalidated just by invoking Ed Rast’s name.

        San Jose may not be the worst city in the state on resisting arrest charges, but does that mean that we should not address racial profiling and police accountability until San Jose becomes “the worst”?

        • “There are 3 kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
          “64% of the resisting arrest charges were filed against Latinos who make up 30.2% of San Jose’s population.”

          Will you give yourself some credibility, downtownster, and at least admit that there is,  from a logical standpoint, more than one way that this statistic could be true?

          I will readily admit that the disproportion COULD be caused by police racism.
          Will you admit that it COULD be the result of young male Latino machismo?

        • We can agree to disagree on Ed’s findings since you are twisting his documentation. Keep in mind too that the CPLE has also stated that there is NO racial bias in the arrests made by SJPD. They have done very detailed research into this issue as well.

          Now, please owe me the same courtesy I’ve shown you, and cite your resources for all of us to review, and please answer my questions. Thank you.

          By the way, the POA is having an open house this Thursday. (Tomorrow.) Everyone is more than welcome. Ed will be there around 6:00pm, so will I. Why don’t you come by and talk to Ed. I’m sure he’d be happy to give you more proof that your beliefs are unfounded. If nothing else you can give him your thoughts on where you think he needs to give YOU more documentation on this issue to clear up your misconceptions of the facts. Then we can talk about what the real issues/reasons about why minorities commit crimes at a higher rate than other groups. A discussion I really look forward to having with you! wink

    • Downtownster,
        Nobody has a problem with holding police accountable for their actions. But don’t you think allegations should be proven before action is taken?
          In fairness don’t you think the Mercury News should be “held accountable” for it’s now-established erroneous use of statistics, obvious bias and failure to report the results of the CPLE report which studies TEN YEARS ov police reports vs. the Mercs’ 200 hand-picked reports?
          In other words, accountability is a two-way street!

  6. Kathleen,

    Are you a frequent visitor of this website…or do you just have nothing better to do? Everything posted here is a two way street. If you admit that racial profiling exists and could have taken place in this case (not all minorities are out there looking for trouble and therefore being arrested) then maybe Downtownster would also admit that your p.o.v. is a possibility. I agree that the police force should not be blamed for all misfortunes, but we can’t sit here and pretend that not one single person in the police for is racist, racially profiles when stopping and making arrests, or has wrongfully accused and arrested a minority. You point the finger a lot on here and claim that people are unwilling to see any other side of the story. But it looks like you just want them to see YOUR side of the story.

    Kathleen’s quotes
    “You are the one who seems unwilling to believe the stats he’s provided to be indisputable, and unwilling to concede that you just might be wrong in your perception of this issue.”

    ” Your unwillingness to even look at this is “extremely disturbing to me.” Refusal to address the facts is the very reason behind why change is not ever going to happen.”

    While it is your opinion, I just don’t think it’s okay to claim someone is unwilling to see a different side of the story when you are actually not trying to see another side of the story.

    I hope this ACTUALLY sinks in. Is unwilling your favorite word? If it is, it completely makes sense.