Social justice leaders in South Bay quit committee on public safety, police reform over 'lack of focus'

Amanda del Castillo Image
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Why social justice leaders quit South Bay police reform committee
The City of San Jose is "Reimagining Community Safety" with at least seven fewer people. Several prominent community leaders behind a three-page resignation letter left the advisory group, which was established to address public safety and police reform.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The City of San Jose is "Reimagining Community Safety" with at least seven fewer people. Several prominent community leaders behind a three-page resignation letter left the advisory group, which was established to address public safety and police reform.

"Those of us who originally stepped away have been fighting this fight for some time," San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP President, Rev. Jethroe Moore II told ABC7 News.

He said three meetings with the Reimagining Community Safety Advisory Group was all it took for him to recognize the committee lacked structure and focus. He added, police reform engagement did not exist.

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"There's still no clear purpose or function of the advisory board and what we would be doing," Rev. Moore continued. "Black, and other members of the advisory board were forced to listen to problems that some people were saying doesn't literally exist. They needed statistics. And so that was, I think, the final draw- when we heard those words come out."

As part of the committee, Moore said his goal was to help people understand the community's role as it related to policing.

"That is the ultimate argument- the police cannot police themselves," he said. "Obviously. That has been the biggest issue across this nation. So, we as a community and as a collective, want the right to set parameters on what police will do in our community."

"We thought we were going to get a chance to, as it says, carefully reimagine what policing will look like," Moore elaborated.

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"Reimagining oversight over the police department. Reimagining being able to do a complete investigation of police," he shared. "Digging into the depths of the issues and have subpoena power, and actually have community oversight."

Moore told ABC7 News, those who quit expected to have the police involved, but didn't imagine the conversation would be led by them.

San Jose's Deputy City Manager Angel Rios explained he feels the committee offers different voices a space for much needed discussion.

"As a nation, as a state, as a city, we've been through a lot this past year," Rios shared. "And one of the things that has become very clear is the real need to address social justice- and in fact, social injustice has become top of mind for everybody. And one of our goals was really to engage the community in a dialogue around reimagining community safety."

He said the success of the committee centered on getting different people together and recognizing there would be divergent perspectives.

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"Divergent views that span the entire spectrum," Rios told ABC7 News. "But creating a space where we could really confront social injustice and any systemic racism that we need to address. And that's messy work."

Since the community leaders resigned, Rios said the advisory group is making some modifications to its structure to better meet concerns and needs.

"This work needs to continue," he shared. "And, in fact, even for the individuals- for the leaders that resigned- we're going to reach right back out to them, because they're central to this conversation. We need their perspective on this conversation."

Rios acknowledged there are some committee members who feel law enforcement shouldn't be at the bargaining table. However, he maintains it's important to have a wide variety of voices to contribute to the conversation.

He said the dialogue is what's needed in any attempt to rebuild relationships between police and the public.

"We're committed to doing that, but it's going to take time," Rios told ABC7 News. "And it's also going to take patience. It's going to also mean sitting through hearing some perspectives that you may not want to hear."

He continued, "We need to continue to engage even those individuals that resigned because they are part of the solution, they can help us frame these issues."

He said it'd be difficult to advance and really come up with solutions that work unless the group addresses what he called, "The hardcore issues."

"That means you got to stay at the table sometimes," Rios said. "Even if it means more than three meetings."

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San Jose State University Justice Studies professor Greg Woods offered his expertise. He isn't involved with the committee, but acknowledged it takes representation from across the community to seriously reimagine community safety.

Reacting to the resignations, Woods shared, "I'm surprised that they threw in the towel after three meetings."

"It's discouraging," he continued. "It's disheartening that these individuals have assumed the high responsibility to help San Jose and the communities in the South Bay, to help to redefine that relationship between law enforcement and community."

Woods said there are a number of institutions that can be relied upon in the city of San Jose. He referenced the Independent Police Auditor and the City Manager as examples.

"All of whom are involved in this particular plan to reimagine policing in the South Bay- to make San Jose the shining example of all that policing can be," Woods told ABC7 News. "And we cannot affect change, we cannot grab the issue of the moment and ultimately reinvent this notion that we have a guardian rather than a warrior- that those individuals who are patrolling our neighborhoods are friends, not foe."

He continued, "In order for us to be able to understand what legitimacy and trust looks like, we must be able to sit at the table with those individuals who can actually influence such change- that change that was dreamed of- that brought these best and brightest minds from our community together."

Woods emphasized, "This is a two-way conversation."

"It cannot be a unilateral proclamation- the policy of policing cannot be imposed upon the community," he told ABC7 News. "We look around the country and we see the way that we can dissolve tension, the way that we can diffuse the agitation and the antithetical interpretations of reality that are hyper-politicized."

Woods said it takes an event with representation from all members of the city, for the collective purpose of achieving greater safety and security.

"To have this mission be abandoned serves no one," he said.

However, Reverend Moore explained a new committee is being formed. He said group members will refocus on the issues they feel need to be addressed.

"We want to get rid of the arbitration process. There's just certain things that are nonnegotiable," Moore told ABC7 News. "Because when we have a bad officer, we want the police chief- who is currently Chief Mata- to have the freedom to get rid of an officer that has done something horrendous. We want the freedom to see videos of bad acting officers. We want it released."

"We are trying to work to better our community, to better our police department, and to better the situation for everyone involved," he continued. "Free of political entanglements, free of the influence."

ABC7 News asked Rios what the future holds for the Reimagining Community Safety Advisory Group.

Rios explained, "We are taking a little bit of a pause right now, because we truly want to capture the community sentiment that we're hearing- including the recommendations that those that resigned made."

"We're going to be taking all that into consideration and make whatever adjustments we need to make to make sure that this is practical- practical and actionable," he said. "Because that's the most important thing. This can't be driven by any one specific agenda. It has to be driven with the best interest of our community in mind."

Rios continued, "As long as we stay true to that, then as messy as it is, we'll end up in a good place."

Mayor Sam Liccardo and Independent Police Auditor, Shivaun Nurre, were unavailable for comment. ABC7 News also reached out to the San Jose Police Department, but have not heard back.

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