San Jose family members who lost loved ones at the hands of police gathered in front of San Jose City Hall on Friday in honor of the National Day of Protest against police brutality.  

The mother of Jacob Dominguez holds a flag with an image of her son, who was unarmed when he was killed by San Jose Police in 2017. She stood silently behind others who spoke about their loved ones. (Jana Kadah/Bay City News)

It’s a day that was started by advocates across the country in 1996. And though the San Jose community has not always participated in protest, the city certainly hasn’t been immune from police violence.  

This year, Silicon Valley De-Bug, a local advocacy group led by families impacted by police violence, organized a small and intimate protest where they shared what happened to their sons, daughters, partners and siblings.  

“Police violence has been a long-standing problem, and really an unspoken part of the history of San Jose,” Raj Jayadev, the founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, said. “But what has always been part of the San Jose story, which is kind of unique, is that the families impacted by that violence lead the movement to end that violence.” 

Raj Jayadev, the founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, speaks to attendees and explains the history and commonplace nature of police violence during the National Day of Protest against police brutality. (Jana Kadah/Bay City News)

Impacted families have been the “tip of the sword” in San Jose in terms of advocacy — fighting fervently at the city, county and state levels, not only seeking justice for their loved ones but also developing and pushing for policies to ensure it never happens again.  

One of the most vocal people in this fight for police accountability is Laurie Valdez, whose partner and father of her child, Antonio Guzman Lopez, was murdered by San Jose State University Police in February 2014.  

Their son, Josiah, was 4 at the time of his father’s untimely death. She started an organization called Justice 4 Josiah to advocate for children who lost parents from police violence because she realized community was needed to fill the void of losing a parent.  

Josiah Lopez holds his head in his lap as he sits next to a poster of his father, Antonio Guzman Lopez, who was killed by San Jose State University Police in 2014. Josiah was only 4 when he lost his father. (Jana Kadah/Bay City News)

“Antonio is dead, there is no more justice for him,” Valdez said through the bullhorn at City Hall. “But if we can accomplish and get justice for Josiah for his trauma, for him having to grow up fatherless, then Antonio’s death won’t be in vain because Josiah will be able to heal and be able to feel safe again.”  

Many other victims killed by San Jose Police in the last decade also left behind young children. Phillip Watkins, who was killed by two San Jose police officers in February 2015, was shot several times in front of his then-3-year-old daughter.  

An unarmed man, Jacob Dominguez, was also killed by San Jose Police in September 2017, leaving behind three children, all under the age of 7 at the time of his death.  

“It takes a village to raise a child, and right here in Santa Clara County, there are 30 children who need the community to step up to the plate and start helping us take action and really make the changes that need to be done,” Valdez said. “So no other child has to grow up fatherless, no other family has to live with the trauma, no other family has to take depression medicine.”  

The small and intimate group at the protest was composed of direct family members of those who were killed by San Jose Police and advocates who have been helping them seek justice. (Jana Kadah/Bay City News)

Many family members who took center stage fought back tears as they shared their grief.  

“I just had a birthday a couple weeks ago, and it was almost like I expected to get a call or text message saying, ‘Happy birthday, Mom,’” Sharon Watkins, Phillip Watkins’ mother said. “We can’t ever have a family get-together, because we’ve got a hole in our family.”  

Rosie Chavez, Jacob Dominguez’s aunt, said the trauma his kids experience is unbelievable.  

“His baby girl, who was only 4 (when he was killed), up to this day still puts on her Christmas list that she wants her daddy,” Chavez said. “She wants to hug him, and she doesn’t understand why she can’t hug her daddy.”  

Their rap list of frustrations with local agencies is long, from seeing officers cleared after killing their loved ones to not receiving any victim support services like families in other homicide cases do.  

Others also critiqued the performative actions by local officials — especially after the George Floyd protests.  

“How come none of those names on those Black Lives Matters banners have any names from San Jose residents killed by San Jose Police,” Valdez said.  

She and others also criticized San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo for taking a knee for George Floyd at a May 31, 2020, Black Lives Matter protest. 

Many of the family members who have had loved ones killed by police in San Jose embraced each other several times throughout protest. (Jana Kadah/Bay City News)

“He never took a knee for any of our family members,” Valdez said. “It happens here too every day, but it’s just hidden.”  

But still, despite all the heartache, there was a thread of hope in all their stories.  

Jayadev said this is largely due to the change in social consciousness around police brutality — especially after a summer of protests after the killing of George Floyd in 2020.  

“You used to have to sort of fight further for the airspace to say that these lives, as they say, matter, but it’s a different moment now,” Jayadev said.  

He said the city community at-large is also starting to realize that police violence is also a homegrown problem in San Jose — and this is largely to the credit of these De-Bug families, who have been organizing for years.  

“People don’t conceptualize it in the way they would think of San Francisco or Chicago or New York, but it’s always had really lethal violence against against particularly Black and Brown community members,” Jayadev said. “Now, I think more people are listening.”