Copwatchers experienced a show of
San Jose Copwatch on Cinco de Mayo 2009
By Brian Helmle and Jesse Villareal
Cinco de Mayo weekend is the biggest public celebration in San Jose, Calif. In the past, daytime gatherings downtown attracted hundreds of thousands. These numbers nosedived when in 1997 the City’s policies around Cinco de Mayo took a repressive turn after a violent incident where alleged gang members got in a fight. The SJPD and City used the incident to portray youth of color as gang members and as the primary threat facing San Jose to demand more money for cops, “gang experts,” a paramilitary Gang Unit, and increased policing of the Downtown and Eastside on Cinco de Mayo. The SJPD began turning San Jose into a police state every Cinco de Mayo weekend. With such heightened police activity and the notorious racial profiling by the SJPD (see: www.urbanhabitat.org/node/4036 and www.mercurynews.com/san-jose-public-drunkenness/ci_10995681?nclick_check=1), the numbers of people coming out shrunk to tens of thousands.
In recent years, San Jose Copwatch—a grassroots community group affiliated with De-Bug—has observed huge numbers of police aggressively patrolling downtown and randomly detaining youth and profiling them into the SJPD gang database, in addition to routine ongoing arbitrary arrests and intimidation. In this climate, confronting racial profiling and arbitrary arrests of Latino people in San Jose is a must to protect all our rights, and that is why we copwatch on Cinco de Mayo.
In 2009, San Jose Copwatch with other organizations coordinated the largest copwatch here in many years. These Copwatchers experienced a show of force and aggression by SJPD solely because the police were being videotaped. For example, on May 3, 2009, a night-time motorcycle stop was witnessed by Copwatchers. A helicopter was shining its light on the Copwatchers on both sides of the street rather than on the stop for the entire duration of the stop (see video www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ohuHd_HXbY).
Another tactic by SJPD to deter copwatching involved three Latino youths taken out of a car. One Copwatcher (see video www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORtZPtblOUs) approached, videotaping. An officer asked, “Is that a camera, or is it a gun?” The Copwatcher took this as implying that if he continued filming, he might be shot. Other Copwatchers began to record and were told they were obstructing and should move across the street (violation of SJPD Duty Manual Sec. L2308 “Onlookers Policy”). No Copwatchers were arrested, but the threats are an escalation of intimidation attempts.
Also on Cinco de Mayo weekend, police threatened to “arrest you for obstruction because now I have to watch you instead of the arrest.” A pattern of police threatening Copwatchers is developing, contrary to department policy cited above which states onlookers have a right to observe and hear the stop and will not be harassed by officers at the scene. We will thoroughly document any other harassment of Copwatchers and request that anyone who has been charged with “obstruction” or been harassed by the SJPD for exercising their right to observe contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
On May 5, 2009, Copwatch participated in a protest in front of City Hall preceding a City Council meeting regarding appointment of a Police Auditor. About 100 people demonstrated in the presence of mounted police. Competing with loud amplified music from a local farmers market, but themselves restricted by city officials to one small megaphone, individuals of many ethnic backgrounds recounted their experiences at the hands of overzealous and biased police officers.
This was the first protest against SJPD racial profiling since the big report on that last year. Folks spoke about tasers and cars impounded at checkpoints and immigrants’ issues. Then many entered City Council chambers and called for an open process for selection of the Police Auditor. A short while ago, the City Council had selected a Police Auditor, and the fact that his brother was a San Jose Policeman was not revealed. Community protests compelled the newly appointed Police Auditor to resign, and the Cinco de Mayo demonstration continued the pressure. The Copwatchers will continue, along with De-Bug, to struggle for truth in the streets, fairness at City Hall, and to help people defend themselves from criminal charges in court.
By Lenette Evans
We don’t have to look far to realize there is a desperate need and injustice in the world. Nearly half the world lives on two dollars a day. Over 850 billion people go hungry and starve everyday while a handful of billionaires control all the wealth of the world.
Our government has torn our nation to shreds and has packed our minds with false promises and has done nothing to help the people. People have desensitized themselves to our economy’s meltdown and towards the poor and homeless. But we can help each other.
Our economy is having neighbors that have never talked before start to talk to one another and ask each other for food.... at local groceries, people are making hard decisions when buying food, toilet paper, bread, shampoo, and laundry detergent and end up putting items back because they don’t have the money.
Stores across the USA, and here in Berrien County, Michigan are arresting people for shoplifting at least once every half hour. People are poor, homeless, hungry, and have lost their jobs here in Michigan, the worst state for employment. So when people have no job and no money they are shoplifting even if it’s just for a sandwich or a loaf of bread.
In Berrien County we have several hundreds of homeless people. The soup kitchen and local food banks and church food pantries are doing what they can but their corporate and community donations are low and shelves are empty.
Here in Berrien County we have young children and infant babies going days and weeks without food and clothing and some homeless have died on the streets. There is NO EXCUSE why people in our community are starved and dying from lack of food when we have big corporations and businesses that can feed and clothe the poor.
There are also people in this community that live extremely wealthy and it would not hurt them to write a check and donate food, clothing, sleeping bags and school supplies to help our poor. Jesus took two loaves of bread and five fish and fed 5,000 poor people. If you want blessings upon your lives, then give abundantly. WE ARE “ALL” ONE PAYCHECK AWAY FROM BEING HOMELESS.... but none of us ever knows when or who will be next.
My neighbor is days away from having her electric, water, and gas shut off. She has had threatening letters about having her home taken away. She cannot afford gas in her lawn mower and often her yard does not get mowed. She needs home repairs but again NO MONEY TO HAVE IT DONE. Many times I have given her bags of food. She has MS really bad and I have seen her in tears because she has no food and or money to pay bills. I have prayed with her many times and planted flowers in her garden and raked her leaves to show her I care.
I only wish I had some good Samaritans out there to get involved in our neighbors lives to see THE DIFFERENCE WE ALL CAN MAKE. What are you doing to make a difference in someone’s lives and in getting the wealthy to contribute? Don’t just be a pew sitter on Sunday and live like the devil through the week. Our community needs to Stand Up.....Rise up..... and Get involved and be praying for global and community change. If you would like to donate please contact me.
Saving Souls Ministries 269-876-1848
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