SAN JOSE — The San Jose Police Department was doing damage control after one of its officers trended nationally on social media for aggressive comments toward demonstrators protesting the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, shouting “Let’s get this motherf—er” and “Shut up, bitch” as he manned downtown skirmish lines.
The officer, confirmed to be six-year SJPD veteran Jared Yuen, was recorded in multiple instances late Friday afternoon and drew immediate and wide rebukes from thousands of people who watched the video and called for Yuen’s firing.
“That guy thinks he’s in an action movie as one of the ‘good guys, … so embarrassing,” wrote one commenter.
here’s officer jared yuen of sjpd pic.twitter.com/36E24PbmoN
— alexis penazo (@bisayaan) May 30, 2020
In a tweet, San Jose city council member Lan Diep said that “as an Asian American, I feel obligated to call out the poor judgment of Jared Yuen” at the protest. “Police are here to serve & protect. During a (national) debate (about) systemic racism & the role of police, his provocations are not helpful.”
One of the videos had been viewed more than 10 million times and been shared nearly 500,000 times on Twitter as of Sunday morning.
Raj Jayadev, director of the South Bay social-justice group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said the videos are troubling because of the fears elicited by the police killing of Floyd last week, after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on a handcuffed Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin was fired and has since been charged with murder.
“Officer Yuen’s actions are extremely dangerous because you have someone who actually has a license to kill,” Jayadev said. “It’s one thing for someone to be a bully. But when you have the tools and state authority to act upon that violent aggression, it’s not just words, as far as I see it. It’s a criminal threat.”
Through the police department, Yuen declined to comment for this story. Police Chief Eddie Garcia, who told this news organization Saturday that the officer’s actions were a product of an environment in which “emotions were running high,” offered a wider response Sunday that firmly denounced the incident while also extending support for Yuen.
“I’m not happy about this, and I’m not defending this,” Garcia said. “He let his emotions get the best of him, and it’s not right.”
The chief, who was among the first police leaders in the country to condemn Floyd’s killing, said Yuen will be held accountable for his conduct, but stopped short of saying whether Yuen’s career was on the line. He said Yuen is a good police officer “who has put his life on the line for the city multiple times.” In 2016, Yuen was deemed a victim officer in an encounter where an auto-theft suspect rammed his car during an escape attempt, prompting two other officers to open fire on the suspect.
“He’s a good kid and a good cop. He will have to deal with this. And I will have to deal with this,” Garcia said. “This is not going to get swept under the rug.”
The San Jose Police Officers’ Association sought to toe a similarly fine line between acknowledging the damaging power of Yuen’s acts and trying to offer a sense of measure.
“San Jose police officers are performing an extremely delicate job, in an incredibly dangerous and difficult time, and our entire community is under an enormous amount of stress. That stress manifested itself in language directed at a protester that is appropriately being investigated by the department,” Sgt. Paul Kelly said in a statement Sunday. “We urge everyone to protest peacefully and know that San Jose police officers remain committed to ensuring the safety of protesters and all residents of our city.”
Council member Raul Peralez, a reserve SJPD officer and former full-time cop, said Yuen’s actions were “inappropriate and unprofessional” and “did not match the dozens of other officers that were there with him.”
“I think that not addressing that quickly is only going to add fuel to the fire,” he said. “You have to be able to address these issues when they happen, and if you don’t then there are reasons why the community will lack trust.”
The controversy arises as the police department continues to draw criticism for tactics used to disperse the demonstrations with multiple deployments of rubber bullets and tear gas, after protesters shut down Highway 101, and some people took to smashing windows and other acts of vandalism. By the end of Friday, at least 38 people were arrested and several officers were injured by thrown objects including glass bottles, and one officer going to the hospital after getting briefly knocked out after a protester punched him in the face.
“As soon as there is violence or destruction to our city, the police imperative is simple. They have to disperse the crowd,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said to this news organization Saturday. “Nobody wants to see the police use force, but they are the thin blue line between what we saw and what may have been a far greater human toll.”
“We’re going to have a very public discussion and review the tactics that were used,” Liccardo added. “That’s why we have investigations, and that’s what I expect in the weeks ahead.”
Staff writer Maggie Angst contributed to this report.
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Author: Robert Salonga