Guest Voice: Vice Mayor Chappie Jones Talks Race, Hope and How He Found His Way to San Jose

“A few years ago, I never would have felt comfortable sharing these stories,” San Jose Vice Mayor Charles “Chappie” Jones, says.

In the interview below, Jones opens up about some of the times he, his family, and friends have faced discrimination and bias.

With an attitude that is clearly one of moving forward and not dwelling on the negative, Jones has done an amazing job of achieving personal and professional goals.

In the wide-ranging interview, the San Jose vice mayor speaks about growing up in Sacramento in the 1960s and ’70s, his impressions of some of the major events in those decades, and how, thanks to the younger generation, many of today’s issues may be at a tipping point towards a new direction. He stresses that it is up to all of us to assure that kids of all races have hope and opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Jones says he laid the foundation for his kids, and how one of his personal objectives was to “raise good honest, decent children who are going to contribute to society and to create a loving household.” He explains how he made his way to San Jose through his spouse, Kelli, and she encouraged him to pursue his dream of public service.

One of the things that makes Chappie unique is that he brings decades of experience from a corporate and small business/entrepreneurial perspective to his public service role.

His approach of assuming people have good intentions and giving them the benefit of the doubt has served him well in business and government. He also reflects on and appreciates the wisdom of this country’s founders, flawed just like the rest of us, and the roadmap they provided in the form of the Constitution.

Click on the timecodes in the summary below to jump directly to that part of the video to hear the vice mayor’s words.

Childhood, Redlining, Repression

01:54 — Jones recounts his “wonderful childhood” with lots of friends in a neighborhood and that was racially diverse. He says he feels fortunate to grow up with a diverse group of people as it taught him that, “by and large we are all the same.” He did not realize it at the time, but his street, which he describes as predominantly black, was the boundary of and part of a redlined area.

06:03 —  Jones weighs in on the impacts of some of the larger events of the 1960s, such as the impact of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., are discussed and the impression they left, particularly the despair and hopelessness in his house. As much as there has been incremental improvements since then, he hints that systemic issues have not gone away (he provides specific examples later in the conversation).

08:49 — The family stories of lynching and segregation he grew up with made an imprint. He explains that when his parents purchased their house in 1962, they were restricted as to where they could purchase their home.

A Diverse School, a Variety of Perspectives

12:35 — Jones describes a high school experience in which people were on a continuum, and where people were as likely to assemble based on shared interests as they were outward appearances.

14:50 — He recounts our common experience of the July 20, 1969 moon landing and the kernel of hope that provided. He says he remains hopeful, as the U.S. has been able to rebound through the low times, such as the 1920s when the KKK membership was estimated to be between 3 to 8 million people.

17:20 — He credits U.S. founders for the aspirational roadmap of the Constitution.

18:20 — He explains his decision to pick UC Davis for undergraduate studies.

Discretion, Detainment, Discrimination

20:23 — Jones talks about a situation on a military base when he was a teenager that could have changed his life in a negative way if the military police officer had made a different decision. His story touches upon the idea of police discretion, which is an underpinning of traffic enforcement. In an article in Cato Unbound, Sarah Seo of the University of Iowa’s College of Law argues that “discretion has often meant racially disparate treatment, as well as serious erosions of the Fourth Amendment.” A Vice article makes a pitch for speed cameras as a way to reduce the need for officer discretion by eliminating some of the more than 20 million annual police-motorist interactions.

23:58 — Jones describes a time in college when he and his friends were detained by the police based solely on the color of their skin. He explains that his experience is not unique, as evidenced by a recent text discussion with a group of 20 of his Black friends, a group that has achieved a high degree of professional success. Almost half of this group have had a gun drawn on them by a police officer at some point, he says.

27:20 — The issue goes beyond statistics and is about perception, Jones explains. He indicates that now is the first time he has felt comfortable sharing these stories and that, the assiduous bias “wears you down.”

28:50 — He discusses his brush with housing discrimination in 1984, and how he sought justice and won. His story echoes what this author’s late friend, Tom Olson, found in Rochester in the late 1950s.

Prejudices, Biases Still Persist

31:17 — Whether comments in a yearbook, or a lady unwilling to share a park bench or a daughter being confronted by a man who questioned why she was parking where she was, unfortunately, his kids are not free from the biases and prejudices that haunted him throughout his life. [Note: at 36:40, this interviewer lost his feed, so several seconds of non-essential video has been removed from the above recording]. Jones explains that subtle incidents like these have a subconscious and sometimes conscious impact that can eventually extinguish hope.

38:51 — Words are tough for some, such as for this interviewer. For instance, I meant to say, “it’s always my words that have been the most offensive,” instead of the “words are the most offensive things I said” (which taken literally makes no sense). It does lead to the bigger point of the next part of the discussion about context and common sense.

Who Brought Jones to San Jose?

40:20 — Jones’s journey continues as his first job was at the old GE plant on Monterey Highway in San Jose, although he lived in Oakland. After a four-year stint at GE, he returned to school, met his future spouse in the same MBA program and moved to San Jose. After graduating with his MBA, he worked for Pacific Bell/AT&T, before joining a small start-up that he grew from four to fifty employees that, in his words, scratched his entrepreneurial itch. He then returned to AT&T and then moved onto Apple.

45:49 — Jones’s wife, Kelli, tells Chappie to put up or shut up about his desire to serve the public. He puts it on the line by quitting his job at Apple. He talks about his public service experience and how his family and friendships keep him grounded. He starts with the premise that most people have the best intentions.

Systemic Issues, Hope

53:21 — The discussion shifts to the interstate freeway system as an example of decisions that were made that had a sometimes-disastrous impact on established Black neighborhoods in many cities (a 2018 study from Stanford suggests that the interstate system was a contributor to the decline of some census tracts with estimates of the destruction of up to 200,000 housing units and population losses of 375,000. As further reference, the SmartDrivingCars Episode 163 has an informative discussion with guest Henry Greenridge, a NYU McSilver Institute Fellow, on race, income and mobility and the potential for autonomy to close the gaps.)

57:10 — Jones talks about getting to the root of the problem. He stresses that most people will not seek a life of crime if they have hope, aspirations and opportunity to do something constructive for themselves and society. He emphasizes that it is going to take all of us to give kids what they need to succeed.

1:00:35 — The talk shifts to the untapped human potential in the Bay Area and touches upon the challenge of training our local populace to work at high-tech jobs in Silicon Valley. He closes out the discussion by suggesting we are at a tipping point, which is being driven by younger people, as far as changes in attitude and action on multiple issues including racial relations, climate change, and gun control.

Final Note: This interview was inspired by the work of the Maasai Jones (no relation to Chappie) and a poem he wrote before his passing,“A Diet Racist.” We will never know why Maasai left us, but he made a difference. 

Ken Pyle is managing editor of the Viodi View, a member of the SJC Airport Commission and chair of the D1 Leadership Group. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches and letters to [email protected].

2 Comments

  1. “A few years ago, I never would have felt comfortable sharing these stories,” San Jose Vice Mayor Charles “Chappie” Jones, says.

    > He credits U.S. founders for the aspirational roadmap of the Constitution.

    WHOA!

    Just guessing, but I suspect that if Chappie were asked to choose between “Rule of Law” or “Majority Rule” he might just lean toward “Rule of Law”.

    Democrats need to watch this guy closely. He sounds faintly subversive.

  2. The timing of these revelations is a testament to the power of tribalism. Despite possessing a very modest store of combustible fuel Mr. Jones still felt compelled to splash it onto an already raging inferno, marking him as a man affected less by racial discrimination than by misplaced allegiance and a tenuous grasp on objectivity.

    Though it would be incorrect to claim that we all have our horror stories of discrimination, hatred, and hardship, it is nonetheless true that tens of millions of Americans with no ancestral connections to Africa do. Some possessors of horror, like the elders in our Vietnamese community, are identifiable by appearance. Others, like those who spent their lives following the harvest, or those who fled the crush of Communism, can be identified only if persuaded to share their life stories. And then we have the victims of circumstance, such as those pressed into the hell of war, those who (due to their race, fragility, gender, or assumed affluence) suffered traumatic assault, and those who, when young and vulnerable, lost a parent or beloved sibling to accident, illness, or homicide.

    The choice Mr. Jones has made, to seek out, nurture, and be immutably affected by wounds real and imagined, is one tens of millions of other citizens have not made, opting instead to embrace self-reliance and resilience, the right stuff upon which this nation was built, upon which immigrants have historically bet their lives, and upon which the enslaved once prayed for the chance to demonstrate.

    I watched enough of the video to observe that Mr. Jones seems a decent and happy man, but one so captivated by his tribe that he willingly and publicly smears America’s police with a broad brush based on nothing more than anecdotes (along with critical thinking skills that are stunningly poor). What in the world would possess him, after relating a story about getting a break based upon his comportment (a military police officer overlooked his felonious possession of a billy club) to then offer as fact his unsubstantiated and unprovable assertion that others found in such circumstances are regularly discriminated against according to race? Does he not realize he was the beneficiary of a discriminating police officer’s perception of his good character (and lawful intentions)? Does he not realize that his blackness did not matter? It is a measure of the depth of his indoctrination that he would use his positive experience with a police officer’s race-neutral discretion as a preamble to an indictment of law enforcement.

    Mr. Jones is convinced that disproportion in police interactions (as reported to him) are proof of racism, apparently unaware that in a nation in which one race dominates street crime, the only thing that would qualify as incontrovertible evidence of racism would be the lack of disproportion in enforcement. African-Americans are stopped in response to reported crimes because it is African-Americans committing the crimes. Has he failed to notice the skin color of the young thugs looting stores, or the swarming females emptying out boutiques, or the drive-by gunmen killing men, women, and children? Who, Mr. Jones must be asked, should the police stop after Black men perpetrate a violent street incident? Would his sense of justice be served if the cops ignored young men who resembled the perpetrators and instead took down at gunpoint a few short-sleeved Mormon missionaries?

    If Mr. Jones is unaware that innocent citizens of all colors are subject to unnerving interactions with the police then he must assume that when someone other than a black man robs a bank or burgles a house (it happens!) the cops somehow know to stop only the perpetrator. Getting it wrong in the wake of chaotic violence can only be avoided by cops not caring or trying to get it right. Is that what he wants, to incentivize thuggish behavior by providing immunity in flight? That kind of hands-off strategy has made Apple stores a favorite of black robbery gangs. Would Mr. Jones like to extend that powder puff policy to all of San Jose?

    If Mr. Jones objects to targeting according to appearance, does he resent the specific targeting of Black males when done by boys desperately searching for resemblance as they seek out fathers they’ve never known? That’s certainly a scenario of great disproportion in the African-American community. Maybe that community should focus on reducing that.

    Listening to Mr. Jones provided me one more reason why I give zero credibility to African-American stereotyping of the police. Absent hard evidence in specific cases, I simply attribute their endless complaints to an unwillingness to acknowledge the high price everyone pays for the atrocious behavior of the lowlifes in their tribe. Instead of using the coercive power of shame against the shameful among their own, African-Americans foolishly focus on the historic wrongs of others and this culture’s inability to cope with the systemic failure and out-of-control criminality of Black lowlifes.