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Peaceful voices of outrage ring across downtown San José

They lay on their backs on the cold pavement, motionless. Then, they stood with one arm pierced to the sky and their fists clenched — because they are tired of it, frustrated. 

People took to the streets of San José for the third day in a row Sunday to protest the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer, and to call for something they don’t see afforded to black Americans like Floyd: justice.  

Brian Neumann/SFBay Protestors sit in Santa Clara Street near Fifth Street in downtown San Jose during the late afternoon on Sunday, May 31, 2020. A city-wide curfew has been declared by San Jose starting at 8:30 p.m.

Many, conjuring some of Floyd’s last words, held cardboard signs that read: 

“I can’t breathe.” 

On cue, throughout the day, the group of protesters erupted in chants: 

“Say his name — George Floyd.”   

Chester Peterson, who attended Sunday’s protest, told SFBay:  

“People [need] to realize that this is really affecting everyone; this isn’t just a black issue. People need to start being more aware, [and] they need to start using their activism and start using their privilege to make a difference.”   

Peterson added: 

“People are tired. We’re really just looking to see change… throughout the country.” 

With the sky filled with light gray clouds, the protesters began marching around City Hall. Some opted to make it eight laps, symbolic of the number of minutes officer Derek Chauvin forced his knee onto Floyd’s neck. 

Others stood to face the line of San José police officers and deputies with the Santa Clara Sheriff’s office, clad in their riot gear, on Santa Clara street in front of City Hall.  

Brian Neumann A young protester faces a line of police at a demonstration in support of George Floyd and condemning police violence in downtown San Jose on Sunday, May 31, 2020.

In hopes the officers and deputies would show a sign of solidarity, protesters chanted: 

“Take a knee.”  

A few deputies and one police officer did.  

Away from the protest, San José City officials announced a city-wide curfew that set in at 8:30 p.m. and remained in place until 5 a.m. Monday. City officials said they had heard of looting activity planned for Sunday night, and that they don’t want their city to have the same levels of violence as others across the U.S. 

Nightly curfews will continue for at least six nights beyond this, officials said at a press conference Sunday evening.   

Mayor Sam Liccardo said: 

“This curfew will help the San José Police Department get a hold of the problem.” 

San José City Manager Dave Sykes signed a “proclamation of emergency” Sunday enabling the curfew. Sykes said he expects the San José City Council to officially approve both on Tuesday.

Yet frustration is growing over how the message behind the protests, by the ones affected and demonstrating, trying to ensure black lives matter, is being muddled by media coverage and political leaders who overwhelmingly question and criticize the appropriateness of how the protesters express their anger and pain.  

SFBay spoke to a protester who only gave her initials — T.B. 

T.B. told SFBay about her frustration: 

“I understand the need for civil protest and everyone’s safety; however, that hasn’t worked for us.” 

T.B. continued: 

“It’s very hard to hear after years of oppression from slavery, into Jim Crow, then into the school-to-prisons pipelines, to hear everyone say be civil and be peaceful. It’s hard. It doesn’t make sense.”     

T.B. elaborated that she sees the issue also being that some people are blind to systemic racism: 

“They are in denial because there is no reason why blacks and minorities make up so little of the population but make so much of the people that are in prison; it doesn’t make sense why I can get stopped and possibly killed, and someone who has lighter skin than me doesn’t seem to have the same consequences or face the same issues. It just doesn’t make sense.”  

Taijon James, who also attended the San José protest Sunday, echoed the sentiment of frustration:  

“All this criminal injustice that we’re going through — you wouldn’t go through it. You wouldn’t want that on your enemy, so why are we just expected to accept it as normal life?” 

James also added what he felt was unfair media coverage on the protests. He said when he followed news coverage on Saturday’s protests, it felt to him that the majority of coverage was devoted toward vandalism. 

James said:   

“You as the media [have] to ask the tough questions, get down to the bottom line. Talk about the real issues.”    

The frustration felt palpable. The majority of cars driving by the protest honked in solidarity, some drivers sticking their hands out with their fists clenched.  

At one point during the protests officers shot projectiles at the crowd after one protester allegedly threw a bottle at them. They arrested him. Other protesters disperse momentarily but resumed taking up spot opposite the police line and chanting: 

“Hands up, don’t shoot.” 

After the curfew announcement, Liccardo visited the scene of the protests, and, alongside 1996 and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Alvin Harrison, took a knee. 

Harrison at times addressed the protesters with a megaphone. He led the crowd in chants and ensured other protesters didn’t get too close to the line of officers. 

Harrison told SFBay: 

“I’m just sick and tired. My son is black and I’m a black male — I know the issues that we face day in and day out. Right now, enough is enough; we’ve had enough.” 

Harrison added: 

“I don’t want to see officers hurt [or] my brothers and sisters hurt. But, it has to end now. The people are fed up; you see what’s happening.” 

At one point, more San José police officers in riot gear showed up, adding to the line of officers and deputies faced opposite to protesters on Santa Clara street. But the day remained peaceful.  

Some people screamed at the line of officers and deputies, but were met with no response. Some officers smirked as they ignored them.   

One protester pointed her finger at one officer in the line and said: 

“I’m doing this for my son.” 

She referenced videos from protests around the country that have flooded social media: Protesters being shot in the face with projectiles by police officers; officers in New York, in two separate cars, ramming into a crowd of protesters in a street; a young girl in Seattle allegedly maced by an officer. 

Police Chief Eddie Garcia, who decried the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police Monday that set off the wave of protest and violence, praised his police officers for their restraint in dealing with unruly crowds over the past two nights. He also acknowledged that one of his department’s officers, Jared Yuen, who has been the subject of a video on social media responding in a vulgar manner to a female protester. 

Garcia of Yuen: 

“I’m not happy with his actions.” 

Yuen’s actions are being investigated, Garcia said, and he — and any officer deemed to have acted inappropriately — will be held accountable.  

As twilight hit, the curfew set in. Garcia said officers weren’t going to impose martial law on the city, but that they want a tool to deal with rowdy and violent gatherings that first showed up Friday night, after a day of mostly peaceful protests. More than 100 arrests have been made in the past 48 hours, he said Sunday afternoon, and millions of dollars in damages have been made to local businesses and other property, he said. 

When asked why San José didn’t declare a curfew when San Francisco did, Garcia said: 

“We wanted to give the community an opportunity to vent … but we didn’t let the issue fester to the point our community suffers.”

People who don’t respect the curfew and who don’t “obey lawful orders” to disperse would be subject to arrest, Garcia said. 

San José reported no major problems Sunday night as protesters continued to march through the streets after the curfew.   

SFBay spoke to a protester who identified herself as Valencia M. She said she also attended the protest on Friday and has been encouraged by the show of protesters. 

She emphasized what she sees as the importance of not letting up now: 

“We need to strategize and mobilize to make sure that we create effective change, not just for right now, but for our future, because this is mainly for our future.”   

James also echoed that sentiment and added: 

“You see a mix of race, you see a mix of age [and] a lot of young people; it’s going down. It’s letting me know that no matter what age [or] race, everybody is tired of it.” 

He added: 

“They are tired of hearing about it, seeing it. They’re tired of it. [And] we’re tired of experiencing it.”

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