Op-Ed: Without Systemic Change, BLM Banners Are Nothing More Than Performative Wokeness

Recently, in an effort to ally themselves with the movement for criminal justice reform and racial equity, San Jose leaders flew Black Lives Matter banners outside of City Hall.

To their credit, city leaders such as Vice Mayor Chappie Jones told onlookers that he recognized that “symbols are not enough.”

One can only hope that their future actions are better than those in the past.

At the moment, however, this comes off as an act of performative ally-ship, which is laughable in the face of the city’s failure to take concrete steps to combat systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

While they may proudly display Black Lives Matter banners, our leaders have failed to take even the mildest actions to stomp out bias in the San Jose Police Department.

Despite numerous injuries sustained by protestors due to rubber bullets during the George Floyd protests in late May, the City Council almost unanimously rejected a ban on using projectile rounds in crowd-control settings.

Violent and racist police officers—such as Jared Yuen (filmed antagonizing protestors), and the members of an SJPD Facebook group in which explicitly racist posts were made—have faced no significant consequences for their actions. This is partly due to union agreements that make firing cops nearly impossible. And in renewing the police union contract this year, the city made no attempts to fix it.

Further, our leaders have actively rejected calls to reinvest police spending into care-based services proven to reduce crime. Despite the obvious lack of correlation between police spending and crime (in 2019, the SJPD budget reached its highest point in years as violent crime spiked simultaneously), our leaders are quick to deride investments in alternative methods of crime reduction as non-starters.

Council members and even police officers are quick to tell you that cops should not become a catch-all for every social ill that plagues our city. But we still dedicate the lion's share of our budget to an agency that is ineffective at most of the tasks we assign to it.

Do you know what is effective at helping people experiencing mental health or substance abuse crises in our streets?

Around-the-clock crisis response teams that work independently of the criminal justice system and coordinate first and foremost with local hospitals.

A program piloted in parts of Oregon, called CAHOOTS, responded to 24,000 calls successfully and required police assistance for a mere 150 of them.

But what did our leaders give us instead? A pilot program for a mental health crisis response team within the police department.

Yet these programs provide no clear benefit to the safety of officers or the public—especially without robust investments in mental health services, which cities such as San Jose, despite years of discussion, have yet to implement.

For some reason, however, our leaders fail to see the value of redirecting the money we spend on criminalizing mental illness toward actual mental health treatment.

Do you know what helps our unhoused neighbors find housing and stay in it? The answer is fairly obvious: permanent, supportive housing.

Providing stable housing and services to the unhoused has been repeatedly proved to be the most effective way to end homelessness.

To its credit, the City Council has taken significant steps to expand supportive housing through the "tiny homes" and Project Homekey. But there is another, darker side to our city’s efforts to address homelessness: criminalization.

While no data is readily available for SJPD specifically, 40 percent of 9-1-1 calls in Berkeley involved homeless or mentally ill individuals. Using law enforcement to criminalize these individuals is incredibly wasteful, and often exacerbates the problem.

Sweeping encampments and incarcerating individuals makes it nearly impossible for them to receive the help they need, while criminal records make it difficult for them to climb out of homelessness. But do our elected leaders recognize the need to divert money from criminalizing the homeless to housing them? No.

Instead, our city continues its policy of sweeping tents—even in the midst of a pandemic.

Lastly, do you know the most effective way to curb  gang violence? Hint: it's not your traditional police-led gang suppression. In fact, such tactics make the problem worse.

What does solve the problem is investments in job training, affordable housing and other services for youth considered at risk of gang involvement.

An analysis by the U.S. Department of Justice found that neighborhoods in San Jose which received the most investment from the city's youth services saw the steepest declines in gang crime. However, nearly half of the recipients of the city’s youth resources and grants are not from groups with the highest risk of gang violence—a figure largely attributable to a fear of criminalization.

We know what works and what doesn't work when it comes to gang violence.

So why, despite a decline in juvenile arrests in Santa Clara County, has the city’s spending on gang suppression ballooned from $12.7 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year to $18.9 million in this one, while spending on youth services has only grown from $9 million to $10.3 million in the same timeframe?

It’s clear where our leaders' priorities lie.

When it comes to racial equity, Mayor Sam Liccardo is right when he says we must “acknowledge the importance of our work ahead and to manifest our collective commitment to embrace that work.”

But San Jose’s efforts to embrace “that work” have been lackluster at best.

Black and Latino San Joseans are over-represented in criminal prosecutions. But our city has no plans to address this nor dismantle our systems of mass incarceration.

If our city does not acknowledge and address these realities, it would be a farce for us to claim that we truly believe that Black Lives Matter.

The banners waving at City Hall have the potential to reaffirm our collective commitment to compassion and equity. But right now, the promises they hold are as empty as the wind that blows them.

Gil Rodan is a San Jose resident, writer and activist. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

13 Comments

  1. Well, it took 3 million dollars to elect people of color to the Santa Clara City Council. The racist oppositi8n from Related Corporation advised by Jude Barry, who has had a history of racist actions tried to block it.

  2. An endless list of “wants” and virtue signalling.

    Not a syllable on whether the solutions are going to be found by hunting and gathering in the forest or by taking things from producers via tribal warfare.

  3. Pandering to a band of violent racist Marxist will not buy the city peace or security, but will encourage more outrageous demands and attacks on the citizens of the city.

  4. Not that you would understand, but most people have an instinct to protect their children. My kids don’t exist to serve any attorney’s interests, sexual or otherwise.

  5. > Op-Ed: Without Systemic Change, BLM Banners Are Nothing More Than Performative Wokeness

    BLM banners are nothing more than performative wokeness, with or without “systemic change”.

  6. Go out and get a job like everybody else. Yes, I know that is hard right now but I am getting tired of all the minorities that are complaining which are unwilling to do what other people do. It’s called GET A JOB.

  7. Why are blacks and latinos overrepresented in criminal prosecutions? It is because they commit most of the crimes.

    If that sounds simplistic then well it is because it is that simple.

  8. Everyone is disposable to you.

    Can you even imagine the misery that you are intending to inflict on her?

  9. The majority of comments above look, feel and smell like a Trumpster dumpster fire, mostly mindless and senseless.

    I agree completely with Gil Rodan that the City’s responses to the Black Lives Matter moment, including the Black Lives Matter resolution, the Equity Pledge and the unveiling of BLM banners at City Hall, are largely symbolic gestures with no immediate or significant positive impact on Black lives. Addressing the accumulated harm inflicted on African-Americans from the lingering material impacts of legalized segregation and exclusion as historically practiced by City of San Jose and Santa Clara County officials (see https://www.sanjoseca.gov/home/showdocument?id=50333; https://www.paloaltoonline.com; https://escholarship.org/content/qt2j08r197qt2j08r197_noSplash_eecbec55456f21df8cb302a 7b292855a.pdf?t=qc30qt; /news/2019/03/29/housings-troubled-history-of-discrimination) requires resources and policies as momentous and consequential as the problems themselves.

    By comparison, consider the passage of San Francisco’s Proposition C of 2018, a 0.5% tax on business revenues above $50 million that is expected to yield about $300 million per year and is dedicated to expanding affordable housing, a problem faced by Blacks disproportionately (https://missionlocal.org/2020/06/court-of-appeal-sides-with-san-francisco-on-prop-c-city-on-cusp-of-unlocking-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars-for-homeless-services/).

    Then there is the May 2020 ballot initiative passed in three metro-Portland counties that approved a 1% tax on income above $125,000 per year for individuals and over $200,000 for couples plus a 1% tax on profits from businesses with gross receipts greater than $5 million per year. The new taxes are expected to bring in approximately $250 million per year in additional revenues (even though an estimated 90% of residents and 94% of businesses are exempt from the new tax). The funds will be used to address homelessness, a condition Blacks suffer disproportionately (see https://www.seattlepi.com/ local/politics/article/Portland-area-voters-approve-taxing-the-rich-to-15283824.php). Finally, have a look at the City of Seattle that in July 2020 passed a tax on businesses with $7 million in annual payroll outlays expected to yield some $240 million annually to address homelessness (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/07/seattle-passes-payroll-tax-targeting-amazon-and-other-big-businesses.html).

    The character and scale of the above initiatives at least approach the type and scale of the problems they are designed to address. If City leaders are serious about eliminating the material deficits faced by Blacks in our community–something I seriously doubt–then they must think at least as big as other local governments with regard to taxing wealth and the wealthy more aggressively. Anything less indicates empty posturing and disregard for the well-being of Black and other residents facing similar circumstances.

  10. > Anything less indicates empty posturing and disregard for the well-being of Black and other residents facing similar circumstances.

    Will your standard of living and quality of life be affected one crumb by the new tax levies?

    THEY WON’T? ! ! ! !

    IndIcates to me . . . “empty posturing”.

  11. BLM is a dangerous, Marxist organization whose mission is to dismantle the nuclear family. This monster was born in the fester stew that is CRT and bent on ripping apart the social fabric of the United States.

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