Local black leaders and community advocates called on Silicon Valley’s white community to address systemic racism in a two-hour rally Tuesday afternoon at San Jose City Hall.
About 500 people — many holding signs reading “Black Lives Matter” — heard a series of speakers condemn the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and demand that white people take an active role in stopping police brutality and promoting equality.
“There should be some meetings in the white community about racism. The problem is yours and you have not changed it in 400 years,” said Reginald Swilley, an associate pastor at Maranatha Christian Center.
Led by the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, the gathering — which drew a diverse and slightly older crowd than the previous days’ protests — was one of many in the Bay Area over this past week sparked by Floyd’s killing.
During his speech, Swilley directly addressed white people, calling on whites to give black Americans the same rights and freedoms they’ve been afforded.
“This is a call to do something,” Swilley said. “How can the same problem be all across the county? It’s so systemic, white people. It’s time for tears on your part. It’s time to go back home and talk to your mom and daddy and children. Almaden, Willow Glen, all the real ritzy places around town, this is your fault.”
James Staten, the health chief for the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, read from a letter the NAACP is sending to California state officials that will call for all four officers involved in Floyd’s killing to be charged with first-degree murder. So far, only the officer seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes has been charged, with third-degree murder.
The letter also asks Gov. Gavin Newsom to create a commission to explore issues “plaguing the African-American community in California.”
“Institutional racism and attacks on African-Americans are not slowing down,” Staten said.
Terra Walls, 22, a recent San Jose State University graduate, said Tuesday at the rally that the nationwide uprisings are “a result of the anger, fear, sadness, and distrust that have manifested for years throughout our communities.”
“These are not isolated events,” Walls said of police killing black people nationwide. “They are directly related to systemic racism that plagues our cultures at an even more alarming rate than coronavirus.”
Demonstrators across the Bay Area have also protested the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was shot and killed while jogging in February in Glynn County, Georgia, while Taylor, a black 26-year-old EMT, was killed in March in Louisville after police officers entered her home with a “no-knock” warrant and opened fire.
Several major protests have taken place in San Jose in the last week, including many in which local police departments have used force such as tear gas and rubber bullets to break up demonstrations after declaring unlawful assemblies.
Walter Wilson, a longtime South Bay civil rights leader, criticized the San Jose Police Department’s use of force in a speech Tuesday, leading a chant of “Yuen must go,” days after six-year SJPD veteran Jared Yuen was seen on video making comments such as “Let’s get this motherf—er” and “Shut up, bitch” while manning downtown skirmish lines that went viral on social media.
“The San Jose Police Department’s treatment of protestors was disgraceful and undermines any potential for trust,” Wilson said. “Police officers who enrage and engage in violence at protected activity by law-abiding protestors must be fired.”
Others joined Wilson in calling for an end to police violence, including Laurie Valdez, 55, of San Jose, whose partner and the father of her son, Antonio Lopez, was shot fatally in the back by San Jose State University police in 2014.
“Our lives aren’t just hashtags,” Valdez said. “It is very hurtful that the selective rage isn’t like that all the time. Because every day someone dies at the hands of police. Our families get triggered any time another life is lost. We get triggered to the day we lost our loved one. We want accountability, we want transparency.”
Wilson’s speech also addressed the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed racial inequities within the healthcare system. Wilson noted that African-Americans who contract the novel coronavirus are dying at a disproportionate rate around the country. In California, data compiled by the state’s Department of Public Health shows blacks make up six percent of the state’s population, but represent 10 percent of the people who have died from COVID-19.
“And still these politicians want to hurry up and get back to work,” Wilson said. “The message is clear. They value money over our lives. Their knees are on our necks. Enough is enough.”
Raj Jayadev, a coordinator with Silicon Valley De-Bug, a advocacy group for equality in San Jose, called on the city to dedicate more of its budget for community services that directly aid black families.
“We need to take the money back from the police that are killing and harming our people,” Jayadev said. “Are you with us to defund the police? We need resources for youth, for infrastructure, for mental health treatments, for housing.”
Wilson, who called out the city for failing to honor an agreement to build an African-American community center, agreed.
“You’re going to see a lot of these politicians this week kneeling with you, hugging you, talking to you and go right back here and vote 6-5 against our best interests,” Wilson said.
Jevon Cuthbert, 25, a DJ from Union City and a youth counsel member at NAACP, said the protests that have taken place are designed to promote peace and unity.
“It’s hard for us to be out in the streets, hard for us to be at home, we cant be at home and feel safe, so many people have that luxury, to be able to just sit on your couch and not have to worry about anything,” Cuthbert said. “We are not trying to be violent, we aren’t trying to fight each other, we are trying to stand together.”
Walls, who attended San Jose’s Friday protest, said that she ran with her eyes burning, terrified, away from police.
“I never thought that being 22 would come with getting tear gassed just a few blocks away from the college that I graduated from just a few weeks ago,” she said.
Jahmal Williams, 36, a member of the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet of Silicon Valley, said protestors continue to gather to push for “the access to opportunities and the abilities to have the same rights, the same response, the same treatment, the same services, that all citizens receive.”
“The uprising that you see access the nation — it stems from pain, it stems from anger, it stems from decades of inequality throughout the lives of black Americans everywhere, and San Jose and Santa Clara county are no different,” Williams said.
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