Protesters met at the Santa Clara County Government Center on Friday to call for the release of youth incarcerated throughout the South Bay, and streamed it live online for the public and their loved ones to see on the inside.
The demonstration focused on Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall in San Jose and the William F. James Ranch in Morgan Hill, facilities that protesters should empty out for the safety of everyone inside.
“We want them set free from juvenile hall, from The Ranch,” said LaToya Fernandez, a community organizer and founder of YouthHype, a social justice-centered nonprofit for young people. “We want that money back so that we can support our kids.”
“We want them free and we want them free now,” she added.
Friday’s demonstration in front of the county building was just one of several planned to coincide with Juneteenth. Later in the day, the same group gathered would link up with others deeper in downtown to march from San Jose State University and on to City Hall.
But first, Fernandez and the 100-plus at 70 West Hedding St. shouted a message they hoped the South Bay’s young incarcerated people would hear from down the road: “We are with you, we love you, we are fighting for you, we’ll liberate you.”
After weeks of protests following the police killing of George Floyd last month and Breonna Taylor in March, South Bay activists and community members would spend all of Friday spreading the message that the fight for justice continues.
“Everybody gotta be agitated, ‘cause if you’re not agitated, you’re not an ally,” Fernandez said. “It’s hard to eat, hard to sleep, hard to be.”
Among the several demands of protesters was the call to disband the San Jose Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, a program that activists say is a tool for criminalizing and surveilling local youth and a drain on taxpayers. “Y’all ain’t doin’ nothin’, and you ain’t been doin’ nothin’,” Fernandez added. “So give us our money back.”
The protest opened with a speech by Jen Alvarez, known as Chichimeca Dream Guide Jen the Rainmaker, who said her indigenous ancestors foretold uprisings against oppressive forces for generations to come.
San Jose’s own local hip-hop-fusion-funk band Barely Funktional invoked a blessing on a stage before protesters broke for lunch. Spoken word artist Jeremy Vasquez went on to perform two pieces woven together by Bay-Area slang, Black American history, hip-hop from Nas to Kendrick Lamar and dreams of liberation.
“And don’t worry, there will be plenty of stories of how the youth had so much drip they shut down the schools, ‘cuz your name belongs amongst the constellations, ‘cuz what are we but men of stardust, miracles and some melanin,” Vasquez assured the crowd during one of his performance pieces.
But the highlight of the morning was meant to be youth voices, and young people had plenty to say, including 17-year-old Karrington Kenney, a Milpitas High student who last year outed a teacher for wearing blackface.
“They don’t know that they can paint their face black and go home and take that off, but what can I do?” Kenney asked rhetorically. “Because they’re lynching us in trees and calling it suicide, and they are locking us up, and they’re locking people my age up for things that they do. And they stay at school, and they stay on the streets and they stay fine, with no criminal record. Why is that fair?”
After Kenney last fall posted the video of David Carter—the Milpitas teacher who wore blackface in an ill-advised attempt to impersonate the rapper Common—he was placed on administrative leave. It is unclear if the teacher unanimously dismissed by the Milpitas Unified in March was Carter.
“If you’re scared of what other people are going to say when you speak about basic human rights for Black people or anyone under the sun, then there’s a problem,” Karrington said. “We cannot stand as one in America if we do not tell off people who continuously do us wrong, because then who will stand for us? Today is the day. If you have been silent, let your voice be heard. People too often underestimate how much power just your voice has. When we all speak as one, we make one huge difference—but you have to start speaking.”
Kenney’s message for protesters and juvenile inmates Friday was that more people need to raise their voices against injustices, whether that entails teachers in blackface or cops killing and brutalizing Black and Brown people.
She also reflected on the magnitude of the current uprising and the changes already emerging from the movement.
“States are banning chokeholds,” she said. “The legislature doesn’t have a choice but to start making changes. If we don’t keep taking it to the streets and calling and emailing and speaking, then will the next one be me? We want justice for Breonna Taylor. We want justice for Trayvon Martin. We want justice for Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland. The list goes on for ages. And do not let your voice be silenced. Do not let up. Your voice matters and it makes a change. As soon as you think otherwise, they’ll think the same.”