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SAN JOSE — As the San Jose Police Department reels in scandal after the emergence of officers’ bigoted and anti-Muslim social-media comments, it has evoked the memory of a notorious incident when another San Jose officer was fired for making offensive remarks directed at Black Lives Matter supporters.

In that case, the officer got his job back in arbitration and he remains with the department, albeit in administrative duty. But in the new scandal — which has resulted in four active SJPD officers getting benched, and the FBI being summoned to help investigate — there is a groundswell from civil-rights advocates and public officials demanding that the outcome be different this time around.

“The difference with these posts surfacing now, is that that there’s a larger context that has shifted the way people understand these issues,” said Raj Jayadev, director of Silicon Valley De-Bug, referring to the national police-reform movement stemming from the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “The movement is more intense, and burning at a level that will give it staying power. I have confidence in the fact the community is not going to let this slide.”

Public calls for the firing of the officers continued to pour in Monday following the revelation of the Facebook posts on Medium Friday by an anonymous blogger, who identified as the partner of a current SJPD officer. The incriminating article featured screenshots of members of the now-deactivated 10-7ODSJ Facebook group — made up mostly of active and retired SJPD officers — sharing racist comments, including about the Black Lives Matter movement and an image the blog author argues equates Muslims with terrorists.

One of the officers put on leave wrote that “black lives don’t really matter” while responding to a separate public post about shootings in Chicago. Another officer was revealed to have created a commemorative coin referring to San Jose police district L, made up largely of Latino and Vietnamese people, as “Stinkin’ Lincoln.”

Council member Sylvia Arenas called the comments “poisonous,” and that “their disparagement of our neighborhoods show intolerance of our diversity and complete disregard of the needs of our community.” Her council colleague Lan Diep called the remarks “disqualifying,” and that “no one who disdains a community should be allowed to protect it. Their hate has put San José in the national spotlight in the worst possible way.”

Police Chief Eddie Garcia, Mayor Sam Liccardo, and San Jose Police Officers’ Association President Paul Kelly all swiftly condemned the remarks, with Kelly adding that the implicated officers will not be supported by the union.

Monday, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, announced the introduction of a bill that would expand public access to police disciplinary records to include “records involving officers who have engaged in racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic behavior, or actions against any other protected class.”

Santa Clara County Public Defender Molly O’Neal said her office is “enraged” by the officers’ bigoted comments and vowed to review their criminal cases — a promise similar to one made by the District Attorney’s Office on Friday.

“We will examine every case any one of the officers touched, speak to clients who were arrested by them, and seek reversal for any conviction obtained through their policing,” O’Neal said. “We are in the process of identifying cases that involved those officers and we will certainly look for any other like-minded racists acting in concert with them.”

The city’s Office of the Independent Police Auditor has received about 20 complaints about the officers’ Facebook comments, which does not include complaints made directly to the city or police department.

Police auditor Shivaun Nurre said that was an uptick given that her staff typically receives between 20 and 30 complaints in a month, with the exception of late May and early June, when the office received hundreds of complaints about police aggression at the downtown George Floyd protests.

But there was also substantial outcry in the 2014 case of Officer Phillip White. While engaging with Twitter critics of his comments criticizing Black Lives Matter demonstrations, he wrote: “Threaten me or my family and I will use my God given and law appointed right and duty to kill you. #CopsLivesMatter” and “By the way, if anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter, I’ll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.”

White was fired, but in opposition to the city and the chief, an arbitrator ordered that he be reinstated. White’s attorney said at the time that the termination process did not properly consider that White was responding to a perceived threat and had no serious disciplinary history.

In his response to the new batch of offensive social-media posts, Liccardo alluded to White’s case and said in a statement that he would “push for changes to a disciplinary process that allows unaccountable arbitrators to reverse termination decisions of the Chief.”

Garcia reiterated that “if these officers are found culpable, this will be in the realm of termination or significant suspension,” and that “this is not a suspension case for some of those comments.” He also said he hopes that if terminations are decided, they will be upheld, or that he’ll get an explanation for an arbitrator’s decision, which he said he never receives.

“I’ve voiced my frustration for years that a chief’s decision to fire an officer for cause should be made more difficult,” he said. “I’m not saying get rid of due process for officers. I’m saying is it needs to be transparent, because the community needs to know the police department tried what it could.”

But for Jayadev and William Armaline, director of the San Jose State University Human Rights Institute, changes at SJPD have to go beyond the firing of individual officers.

“That’s just the low-hanging fruit. Should these cops be fired? That’s a no-brainer. If an institution wants to stay legitimate, you have to fire them,” Armaline said. “We have to recognize at this point that this is not the exception. There is no agency where this has not been an issue. It’s not just bad apples.”

“We see this everywhere,” he added. “I don’t think for a second that just getting rid of these four guys will solve it. These are the conversations to start having.”

Staff writer Maggie Angst contributed to this report.

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Author: Robert Salonga

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