To San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, City Council members, City Manager Dave Sykes, and Budget Director Jim Shannon:
In the name, spirit, and memory of those killed by San Jose police, we—the families of those killed by the San Jose Police Department, the supporting community, and those who have called for Black Lives Matter from the streets—submit this letter demanding the defunding of the San Jose Police Department.
To fully grasp the urgency and sanctity of this call, before reading the arguments, analysis, and reasoning collectively crafted below, we ask you first to say out loud the names of San Jose loved ones who have been killed by law enforcement and whose families author and lead this cry for justice: Rudy Cardenas, Richard Harpo Jacquez, Jacob Dominguez, Antonio Guzman Lopez, Richard Lua, Isai Lopez, Jesus Geney Montes, Anthony Nuñez, Daniel Pham, Aaron James Phillips, Steve Salinas, Diana Showman, Bich Cau Thi Tran, Phillip Watkins, Jennifer Vasquez.
These are names you should know by now, and is not even an exhaustive list of the lives taken by law enforcement in San Jose. The families of those murdered by police in San Jose have been calling for justice and accountability for years.
They have united to find strength and solace to organize through their tragedy, and the call for ending police violence, to replace lethal police functions with community responses, to divest from the weaponry that took their loved ones lives are mandates that they have long made a local struggle and now is echoed as a resounding national, history-changing, movement. As the renown abolitionist Angela Davis noted in a recent interview, in regards to the magnitude of this moment she says, “We have never experienced this kind of global challenge to racism and the consequences of slavery.”
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited not only a new national consciousness, it has inspired unprecedented political action across the country and globe. San Jose has been no exception. Our community—led by young black and brown leaders—have boldly and beautifully ceased the city, chanting, marching, protesting to say the injustice will not be ignored, the murders must stop, and Black Lives Matter.
The city of San Jose responded to the righteous protests by launching flash bang grenades that shatter eardrums and let loose barrages of rubber bullets at point-blank range that seriously injured protestors who are there to denounce the very treatment they’re receiving at the hands of the San Jose Police Department, leaving our own community wounded, traumatized, and, for some, perhaps unable to even have children that can grow and flourish in this beautiful community.
They shot tear gas at us as we chanted “I Can’t Breathe” through withered face masks, while Jared Yuen, “a good kid” in uniform, with your name on their badge leered at us, gun cocked, and yelled, “Shut up, b—ch.”
Communities like ours, around the country and the world, have been taking to the streets in the hundreds and thousands in support of the Black Lives Matter movement since the hideous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, and countless others at the hands of their own police departments. The Black Lives Matter call started as a response to Trayvon Martin’s unjust murder and is a platform for black and brown communities to fight for justice, freedom and liberation through community organizing and action.
After decades of broken promises and empty reforms, black and brown communities continue to be the targets and victims of police violence, abuse, incarceration, as the budget for SJPD balloons at the expense of community programs.
The numbers are irrefutable—44 percent of the general fund department’s budget is committed to the police as housing, parks, education, and health needs are de-prioritized and stripped of resources. The budget allocation is an articulation of this perpetuated systemic racism upheld by elected city officials.
But now, San Jose, through this upcoming budget decision, has an opportunity to move to the right side of history, and our families and communities implore you to be responsive to the demands that is ancestral in the making, that are from San Jose parents who will not hold their children again, of kids who now grow up without mothers and fathers, and is for future generations to come.
The following demands are organized as a divest in police and invest in community framework. Each of our two major sections labeled “Defund” and “Reallocate” has itemized demands which were collectively researched, analyzed, and agreed upon. Each demand stems directly from the experiences of the families who lost loved ones to police and the urgent needs of San Jose’s black and brown communities.
DEFUND. We demand an immediate divestment and reallocation of San Jose PD funding by the following means:
● Remove police officers from the force who were responsible for officer involved
shootings. Public records reveal that from 2009 to 2018, there were 60 officer-involved shootings, 23 of which were fatal, as determined by the San Jose Police Department. A total of 85 officers were involved in those shootings, seven of whom were involved in multiple incidents, including one officer who was involved in four. Officers who have taken the lives of people in San Jose have not been fired, prosecuted or held accountable. In some cases, these officers have been promoted. We demand these officers be removed as part of defunding the San Jose Police Department. Given the average salary, benefits, and overtime pay of SJPD sworn staff is around $245,000, removing all 85 of those officers could reallocate up to $20,825,000 from the SJPD budget. In addition, officers present at an officer involved shooting or use of force incident who fail to intervene should also be removed from the force.
● Dismantle units such as VCET, MERGE, Covert Response and Street Crimes Unit
that have displayed the highest propensity for violence against black and brown
communities and criminalize poverty. Officers with the MERGE (Mobile Emergency Response Group and Equipment) and VCET (Violent Crimes Enforcement Team) Unit of the San Jose Police Department have been involved in the killings of San Jose residents. It was VCET officers Anthony Vizzusi and Michael Santos who showed up with AR-15’s and killed 18-year-old Anthony Nunez. It was the MERGE team and officer Jacob Morris who killed Richard Harpo Jacquez. It was the Covert Response Unit and officer Mike Pina who killed Jacob Dominguez. These units have operated without regard to safety, have violated training protocols at the very moments where training and de-escalation should have mattered. They have proven to be harmful to black and brown communities. Dismantling the units will save the city at least $8,871,775.
● Dismantle the Mayor’s Youth Gang Task Force which is a law enforcement surveillance and targeting mechanism disguised as youth services. While violence and homicides have decreased in the city, San Jose has doubled down on attempts to incarcerate black and brown youth through its Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force—a machinery that continues historical racism and leads us further away from national efforts to de-carcerate. This task force should be dismantled, and all city funds for youth services should be allocated directly to youth serving community organizations. Of the $9,352,757 allotted for youth ‘gang prevention’ and intervention under parks and recreation, none of those dollars should go to the police.
● Eliminate paid administrative leave for police facing misconduct charges. Families who lost loved ones to police violence find themselves in some of the darkest moments of their lives in the following their loved one’s death. They are thrust into a public spotlight; they are seeking answers as to the circumstances; and they have to bury their loved ones—often with no resources. They put their grief to the side. Additionally, individuals who are also victims of serious use-of-force incidents often also find themselves arrested and then facing criminal charges in the court—sometimes while recovering from the physical and emotional injuries caused by police. In the meantime, police officers involved in these incidents get paid administrative leave. Accountability and culpability for the harms the officers have caused should not come in the form of paid time off. Officers facing misconduct charges must be held accountable for their actions, and if they are temporarily removed from service, they should not be paid for that time. Paid administrative leave should be eliminated from the police department budget.
● Do not allocate city funding for the defense of officers who shoot, maim, or injure
our loved ones due to police violence. In 2019, the city attorney spent resources defending SJPD Officers Michael Santos and Anthony Vizzusi in the police shooting of 18-year-old Anthony Nuñez. His family and community sat in court for two weeks while two city attorneys defended the officers’ actions and paid for expert witnesses up to $40,000 to justify the killing of Anthony. The city attorney’s office then further wasted resources appealing the case after a unanimous jury decision that found the officers liable. Police officers should carry their own insurance and be held liable for their own misconduct. The involved officers themselves must assume financial liability of litigation resulting from police violence (including civil settlements), and not the city of San Jose.
● Discontinue all future hires and trainings, and remove any openings, beginning in the fiscal year 2020 to 2021. Last year alone there was a growth of 145 new sworn staff and currently the city manager has been directed to support the hiring of 20 more sworn staff. As of January 2020, there were 32 funded vacancies, meaning there is money allocated to positions not even filled. We ask that no further head count to be allocated to SJPD. By cutting the 32 funded vacancies, the city would save $7,840,000 based on the average starting salary, benefits, and overtime of a sworn staff. Eliminating the budget that goes toward ineffective training would save the city an additional $12,819,794. With the amount of training SJPD has received and their continued conduct, it has shown that SJPD has exhausted its ability to make reforms through training. In the officer-involved shooting of Richard Jacquez, Jacob Morris, the officer who killed Richard was a trainer himself. In more recent events of the last two weeks, SJPD shot and severely injured Derrick Sanderlin in the groin with a rubber bullet while he was trying to deescalate a situation at the protest. Derrick trains SJPD officers about implicit bias. SJPD has shown that at the very moments where training matters, they go rogue.
● Restrict further funding of the $178 million CARES Act from going to the San Jose
Police Department. The Federal CARES Act was passed by Congress as a response to aid families and businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic. On June 23, 2020, the City Council is set to consider a memo from David Sykes to reallocate $19,363,000 in CARES Act funding to backfill the already proposed cuts to the 2020 to 2021 police department
budget. It is unconscionable for the city to direct these funds to the police—the least-needed service that a city can provide or assist with—during one of the most extreme
public health and economic crises this country has seen. According to that same memo, one of the activities that CARES Act funding can provide for is a ‘consumer grant program’ to prevent eviction and homelessness. Keeping people housed is public safety. Last month, families and community organizations testified to the need to create a program to cancel rent. These funds should directly go towards tenants who are on the brink of homelessness when the eviction moratorium sets to expire on June 30.
● Disarm the police by cutting their non-personnel/equipment budget. Time and time again, SJPD officers have demonstrated their propensity to use lethal force in response to mental health crises, arrests, or interventions like welfare checks. When arresting individuals who have had a criminal record, they have justified their use of force by touting the person’s history—acting, therefore, as judge, jury, and executioner. Even in the last two weeks when community members have come out to protest the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, they were met with indiscriminate firing of rubber bullets and tear gas, which did cause serious injury to civilians. SJPD is a fully-armed institution with a history of misusing their weaponry. Their equipment budget of $27,381,063 should be eliminated. In the interest of halting future dangerous actions the police department can commit against the community in a variety of ways, we ask that the entire equipment budget be eliminated, recognizing it pays for equipment and supplies that go far beyond weapons.
● Demilitarize the SJPD by restricting the department from receiving funding for equipment from our State and Federal government. We ask that the city council enforce the demilitarization of police through cutting their ties with the 1033 program that transfers excess military supplies and equipment to civilian police departments. The police department should not be using military-grade equipment against their civilians. There is no necessity in obtaining such dangerous equipment, as it runs the risk of being used against its own people.
REALLOCATE FUNDING TO THE COMMUNITY. We ask that the $77,737,632 from the divestment of the San Jose Police Department be reallocated to the following initiatives, spearheaded by community experts and distributed as follows:
● Allocate grant funds only accessible to Black-led and Black-serving entities. Allocate funding towards a grant fund specifically used for and by Black-led entities, which include but are not limited to: small businesses, independent contractors, community based organizations and nonprofits. This grant will be created around the initiatives that follow: Community outreach, economic development (Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurship training programs), education, racial equity initiatives, restoration initiatives of the Black community, food security, and housing. This grant fund will continue to be invested in by the city and that the details of this grant be reviewed once a year and edited as needed by the Black led community organizations in San Jose.
● Provide funds for immediate and long term support for individuals and families
impacted by police violence. Funding should be reinvested towards families who lost loved ones to police violence and towards individuals who have been victims of use of force incidents. They have to navigate the days, weeks, months, and years following their tragedies—often without any city resources to assist them. Specifically, for children whose loved ones have been taken from them, and who otherwise experience the violence of police, the trauma is unseen, and has long-lasting effects that families cannot predict when or how the grief will express itself. There are little to no resources available to them, and for those particularly impacted by police violence, there is a lack of trauma-informed counseling. There should be immediate funds made available to families that can assist with medical or funeral expenses, short and long-term counseling, and other needs families identify. In addition, funding should be provided for a liaison, independent of the police department, to communicate with the family when these incidents occur. Families are often left in the dark when they have reached out to police for answers. They’ve been hung up on, met with rudeness and dismissed—instead of met with care and compassion.
● Allocate grant funds to brown and other low-income communities, prioritizing
areas that are over policed and under resourced. Historically black and brown communities have been neglected and underinvested in, and are the same communities that are over-policed. Communities most harmed by police will create and lead an ongoing community budget process to determine how to properly allocate resources into the communities to both reduce harm and provide economic opportunity.
● Fund a new sector of first responders to directly respond to 911 calls for help. Allocate grant funds for the development of the above program. These responders should replace police as respondents in calls relating to, but not limited to: mental health, violence, sexual assault/gender-based violence and abuse, and substance abuse. These responders should be trained in de-escalation practices, transformative/restorative justice, and other ways of intentionally addressing the calls. Far too often, when someone calls 911 in crisis, the police are sent to respond to the emergency. In fact, 911 call taking and police dispatch receives $28,012,674 from the police department budget, and houses 163 positions. The problem, however, is that the police officers are not the appropriate responders to deal with the crisis or emergency at hand. The city should staff the Office of Emergency Management and the 911 dispatch center with community members and professionals who are NOT the police, and who are instead educated in trauma-informed crisis response in order to better respond to community needs. These individuals should particularly be informed on addressing these crises as specifically experienced by black and brown individuals, women, youth, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and those whose identities intersect these marginalized communities.
● Fund long-term mental health resources. Allocate funding to mental health resources in the community. If Diana Showman, Phillip Watkins, Anthony Nuñez and AJ Phillips were met with care instead of guns, the outcomes would have been different. The city needs to fund ongoing mental health services to ensure that individuals and families who need the support can access it without the threat of law enforcement. Already, there are trusted resources in the county who provide mental health support, and the city should supplement those resources.
● Provide long term funding to support San Jose’s housing needs and investment in
San Jose’s community-led land trust. San Jose is one of the most expensive places to live and our black and brown communities face the brunt of housing insecurity. Since the decision to sell public land to Google, homelessness has increased 42 percent. A complete reorientation of city priorities to current residents is long overdue. Dedicated ongoing city resources should be allocated to prioritize the stabilization of our longtime community members and neighborhoods to prevent eviction, house everyone and shift towards collective community ownership of housing like the models provided by black and brown community led land trusts. The aim of community land trusts is to collectively steward land and property for community benefit and keep housing affordable long term.
● Use the CARES Act funding to immediately relieve the rent of all those unable to pay their rent during shelter in place orders. We ask that the $19,363,000 previously recommended to be allocated to the police department be redirected to our communities left in need by the current pandemic. During the COVID-19 crisis, across San Jose families have been unable to pay for rent due to the county shelter in place, mostly impacting black and brown communities. The city of San Jose passed an eviction moratorium imitating the county’s moratorium but all moratoriums are insufficient to protect tenants from being evicted after having to pay back Silicon-Valley-priced rent. The CARES Act funding should be used as its intended purpose: public health. We demand CARES funding be allocated to rent relief for all families unable to pay rent at any point during the shelter in place. Because keeping families housed during the current pandemic is a public health issue. Because preventing evictions and homelessness is a public health issue. The $19,363,000 that [City Manager] David Sykes is recommending to allocate to the police department should be fully allocated to this program.
● Reallocate and restore funding for community parks and recreation spaces and
programming. The current budget within parks and rec of $9,352,750 previously allocated to the youth gang task force sector should be reallocated specifically to youth community programs, organizations, and resources. The city should restore its previous budget cut of $4,337,088 and that the funds then be used for general aesthetic improvements, and expansion of community centers and to be distributed equitably based on neighborhoods/centers with highest need(s). Funding should be allocated for each community center to hire and retain licensed, mental health specialists and/or counselors on-site to support neighborhood youth and adults. In addition, community centers should be funded for new and expanded youth and adult programming at community centers to include after-school meals, tutoring, and activities for youth, sports leagues, art workshops and events, job training and job fairs, computer literacy and financial literacy classes, urban gardening classes, translation services, culturally-relevant services, and office/ meeting spaces for local community-based organizations. Cultural events like Viva Calle and the Viva Parks Series should also be restored but absolutely no funds to be allocated for partnerships with San Jose police regarding events or police presence at community centers.
● Restore funding for San Jose Public Library staffing and programming. The previous budget cut of $1,519,090 be restored. Libraries are touchstones in the community that provide family and community spaces to congregate and learn. The city should restore funding to ensure libraries stay open, and fully staffed, seven days a week. Funds should be allocated to expand library collections to include more culturally relevant and anti-racist texts, as well texts from local authors and those traditionally underrepresented in academia and literature (BIPOC, LGBTQ+, etc.).
We as a united San Jose community formally submit the above listed demands as a necessary shifting of resources to match the values, principles, and immediate needs of our people. We call on each of you as elected officials to fulfill your responsibilities to the people of San Jose and honor the vision laid out by families who lost loved ones to police, and is rooted in the safety and well-being of all of our residents.
We will not tolerate any more taking of lives by police, and certainly will not accept the murders to be facilitated through our public dollars especially while critical community resources remain depleted. This demand to defund the police is as much about stripping an institution of the budget it has used to harm and kill, as it is at the same time an intentional re-investing in a community budget, particularly black and brown San Jose communities, who have been drained of resources systemically for generations.
Our call is as practical and timely as it is aspirational and forward-looking. We are ready to create a San Jose where our impacted and targeted communities imagine and determine what safety and well-being looks like and means for all of us. And we fully know, without a doubt, that this demand letter articulates our first and most critical foundational step in making that San Jose a reality.
THE IMPACTED, SILICON VALLEY DE-BUG, THE PEOPLE OF SAN JOSE