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San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia said that the department’s police officers only used non-lethal force against “agitators” who have attempted to harm law enforcement during otherwise peaceful protests.
Garcia and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo recently discussed the actions of law enforcement officers in response to protests of police brutality and racism following the death of George Floyd under the knee of an officer in Minneapolis last month.
Garcia said officers have been pelted with rocks, plastic and glass bottles, cans, metal rebar, chunks of asphalt, wooden sticks from protest signs and miscellaneous items from a construction site on Santa Clara Street. Police squad cars have also had their windows broken and defaced with words like “pigs.”
“You ask how can we justify making the decision to use less than lethal projectiles for crowd control purposes. My response to that is how can you not? If you’re going to ask us to stay there, we have to defend ourselves.”Capt. Jason Dwyer, San Jose Police Department
In response, officers have deployed tear gas and fired rubber and foam bullets into crowds of protesters and looters to make them disperse. According to Garcia, law enforcement officers have only done so in response to acts of aggression.
“We keep talking about the police using force but crowds are using force against police,” Garcia said. “This police department is not using force not in response to a crowd’s behavior.”
Capt. Jason Dwyer, the San Jose Police Department’s special operations commander, characterized a May 29 protest in downtown San Jose as a war zone and said officers couldn’t defend the city without also defending themselves.
“You ask how can we justify making the decision to use less than lethal projectiles for crowd control purposes,” Dwyer said. “My response to that is how can you not? If you’re going to ask us to stay there, we have to defend ourselves.”
‘The options are not pretty’
Protesters and social media users have criticized the department since the protests began for seemingly showing little regard for who they targeted with non-lethal tactics like tear gas and rubber bullets. Some protesters across the country have been partially blinded after being hit with rubber bullets.
“We need those tactics,” Garcia said. “The options are not pretty. We either use more force than what may appear to be much force or we give our city up.”
One officer in particular, a six-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department named Jared Yuen, was seen in a viral tweet instigating protesters, including shouting “shut up, b—-” at one protester before his team charged toward a crowd.
Yuen was placed on administrative leave pending an internal conduct investigation, according to Garcia.
“I don’t need to have five minutes of that video to tell you that it was unprofessional and that’s not going to be tolerated,” Garcia said.
As for other videos shared on social media about police, the chief said, “When you see force incidents where all you’re getting are the last five-to-10 seconds, you can’t necessarily base everything on that. You have to look at the totality of what occurred in most cases.”
Garcia added that San Jose residents and protesters are encouraged to send videos of potential officer misconduct for review.
Liccardo and Garcia both argued the city’s 8:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, which ended Thursday morning, was a success in quelling large crowds of protesters as well as people looting and damaging public and private property.
With the curfew ending, officers expected some protest attendees to resume the rowdiness that characterized parts of the protests last Friday and Saturday, prior to the curfew being enacted on May 31.
Curfew not a ‘tolerable way to live’
Garcia said officers have detained and arrested dozens of protesters, looters and people breaking curfew over the last week.
That includes at least two journalists who reported being detained last Sunday despite the curfew order exempting media members in addition to essential workers like law enforcement officers and firefighters.
Liccardo subsequently apologized to at least one of the journalists and said in a Twitter post that he was troubled by the improper detention. On Thursday, he said the city could re-implement a curfew if protests get rowdy once again.
“Nobody in this police department, nobody in this city intends to live under a curfew for any extended period of time,” he said. “Nobody believes that’s a tolerable way to live.”
Garcia and Dwyer said that as long as protests continue, they intend not to “lose the city.”
“We know not everybody out there, of the hundreds of people, are out there to commit crime. A lot of them are just out there to exercise their First Amendment right,” Dwyer said. “But we’re going to stay the course and continue to answer the call, until we believe that the city is no longer in danger.”
The full news conference can be viewed on Facebook.