Over the past two decades San Jose has consistently boasted about itself as the “Capital of Silicon Valley.” Yet, when it comes to addressing the needs of the people who make up the diversity this city touts, leaders respond with empty gestures and ineffective policies.
For example, recently Mayor Sam Liccardo took a knee with protestors and listed the names of victims killed by police in the U.S. Conveniently, he neglected to mention the victims who were killed by the police in his own city, which he has turned a blind eye to for years. Anthony Nuñez, Jennifer Vasquez, Phillip Watkins, Antonio Guzman Lopez and Jacob Dominguez are just a few of the names he chose to omit.
As a mother whose partner was murdered by local police, his performance was disrespectful to me and to other families.
SJPD’s bloodshed in our streets is on the hands of every city leader who continues to condone, praise and reward this violent pattern of behavior.
My young son is deeply traumatized by his father’s murder. He recently wrote a letter, saying, “When I was little I needed my father ... It’s hard to live without a dad.”
As organizers and San Jose residents, we are writing this reflection alongside Laurie, her son, Josiah, the other impacted families, and in the memory of their loved ones. In recent weeks, thousands of us have taken to our streets and surrounded City Hall in mourning, and in anger, of the violence police have inflicted upon these families, and thousands of other Black and Brown communities across this country.
Collectively, we have boldly and beautifully awakened our city.
We’ve sung, chanted, and declared that Black Lives Matter, while demanding justice from our city leaders by calling for an immediate divestment from the SJPD and reinvestment in Black and Brown communities.
Yet, our city has responded to these peaceful calls for justice by letting loose barrages of rubber bullets onto its own people, and launching flash-bang grenades that have shattered our eardrums, along with our trust in this city’s leadership.
Liccardo has disparaged this call for divestment, dismissing it as merely “a means to express protest.” Here he is dismissing generations of Black and Brown activism, including the decades-long battles that families impacted by police violence in San Jose have fought. We have been, and are continuously working towards, a reimagined world in which marginalized communities are fully resourced and prisons, police, and other racist institutions do not need to exist.
Instead of listening to the grieving families and citywide protests that have sustained over the past few weeks and years, Mayor Liccardo has chosen to tokenize sparse conversations with one Spanish-speaking community group to proudly assert that he listens to communities of color. This level of ignorance is baffling, even shameful for someone that proclaims himself a progressive leader in our community.
This is a necessary reminder that any effective efforts for change must have those impacted at the forefront of the decision making process, not politicians that value their public image over Black and Brown lives.
On Thursday, our letter that gathered over 2,600 individual and 30 organizational signatories in under 24 hours, was sent to city leaders. It centers on the perspectives of families affected by police violence, and calls for funds to be divested from a bloated SJPD budget, and invested directly into the communities that have been traumatized by police violence. It is a call to invest in black- and brown-led community organizations, support families traumatized by police brutality, expand the budgets of libraries, community centers, affordable housing, and mental-health services.
A summary can be found here
We aim to create long-term social change and usher in structural transformation, not the “quick fixes” that Liccardo suggests. We actively reject the reforms that Liccardo touts, including the #8CantWait steps that Liccardo proclaimed the SJPD has implemented six of (eight, by late last week). The fact that SJPD continues to murder and brutalize its own residents with these changes in place only proves that these “quick fixes” are ineffective.
History is watching. We, the marginalized that breathe life and meaning into our city of San Jose, expect change—now.
Laurie Valdez is the partner of Antonio Guzman Lopez, who was murdered by San Jose State police in 2014. She is the founder of Justice for Josiah (named after Antonio and Laurie’s son Josiah). Leila Ullmann was born and raised in San Jose, and is a university student. Oscar Sandoval is an educator, artist, and San Jose resident.