Recent protests sparked by police killings of Black people across the country have escalated to a level that has put big-city mayors in the crosshairs of protesters who don’t think they’re doing enough to forge change and others — including President Donald Trump — who say they should be cracking down on the unrest.
And for some of them, the strife has hit close to home in the form of vandalism.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who has largely defended the city’s police department and advocated against the defunding police movement in recent months, became the latest target of protesters this weekend when about 100 of them marched to his home sparked by the recent Wisconsin police shooting of Black resident Jacob Blake.
While there, some protesters spray-painted messages, including “F*** 12,” referring to police, and “San Jose will be free soon” on his house, threw eggs at it and burned an American flag and a Blue Lives Matter flag taken to the scene, according to police.
Later that evening police reported a second incident of vandalism at San Jose City Hall, where one suspect was arrested, booked and jailed on a felony charge. Detectives in the San Jose Police Department are conducting investigations into both incidents.
“Having someone graffiti my house is just part of the job,” Liccardo said Monday after he and his neighbors had cleaned off any remnants of the graffiti from his home. “I understand that’s the nature of leadership in difficult times but what is of greater concern to me is a pattern of violent and criminal behavior designed to lure police.”
The vandalism to Liccardo’s home occurred just one month after the home of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was also splattered with graffiti messages such as “Defund OPD” and “Cancel Rent.”
Though police didn’t get to Liccardo’s home when the vandalism occurred, they did arrive in time to City Hall to find one suspect still scrawling messages on a wall there, according to San Jose Police Department Sgt. Christian Camarillo.
“All indications were that this was supposed to be a peaceful protest, just like the second week of George Floyd protests, so there really wasn’t a need for us to be out there,” Camarillo said in an interview Monday. “We 110% support people who want to organize and conduct peaceful protests, but when a crime occurs and blatant acts of vandalism occur, we are going to respond.”
U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna called the recent acts of vandalism against Bay Area city leaders “appalling and outrageous.”
“I understand that there are a lot of people who are frustrated with the system and who don’t see it changing, but the answer to that is to take inspiration from Dr. (Martin Luther) King and John Lewis and to take the higher ground,” Khanna said in an interview Monday.
LaToya Fernandez, a founder of the community nonprofit Youth Hype, said she understood the anger of protesters but did not condone damaging people’s property.
Fernandez, who is currently working with the mayor’s office to create a Black Lives Matter banner for City Hall, said the actions could be “counterproductive” to progress currently underway by activists and organizers working with city officials to make lasting impacts.
Still, tensions between the mayor and police-accountability advocates have been boiling since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May.
Despite calls from hundreds of community members to divert funding from the city’s police department and invest in more equitable resources for marginalized residents, Liccardo has been an adamant critic of the movement to defund police departments, the city voted to maintain the police force’s $449 million budget and city officials have continued to forge ahead with plans to build a $43 million-plus police training and academy complex. The mayor did unveil a nine-point police reform plan but many advocates said it didn’t go far enough to address systemic friction between the community and police.
And now the mayor is getting some backlash from community members for branding those responsible for vandalizing his home and allegedly threatening his neighbors as “menacing thugs,” even though he pointed out their behavior did not represent the greater Black Lives Matter movement.
In a tweet on Saturday following the vandalism to his home, Liccardo replied to someone by saying “feel free to re-define the (Black Lives Matter) movement as including menacing thugs if you like, but our community doesn’t support that.”
Liccardo, who said he found it surprising that his words were viewed as racially targeted, took down his tweet after advocates and community members called it “shameful” and “the definition of a dog whistle.”
“I understand different people have perceptions of different things and I didn’t want it to be a distraction or to offend anyone,” the mayor said. “It was more important for me to convey a clear message.”
The mayor’s message, he said, was that a small group of protesters — who he believes are not emblematic of the overarching movement — are engaging in “much more aggressive and, frankly, criminal activity with an eye toward trying to lure the police, and in many cases it’s resulting in real harm.
“We all know that change can’t happen unless there’s an opportunity for real dialogue and that dialogue doesn’t get furthered through acts of intimidation,” he added. “I certainly am not going to respond to acts of intimidation, nor should any elected leaders.”
Raj Jayadev of Silicon Valley De-Bug, however, called the mayor’s comment “incredibly dangerous and irresponsible.”
“If you have a mayor that fashions himself as a middle-of-the-road or progressive politician calling young Black and Brown people menacing thugs, that’s putting gasoline on a fire,” Jayadev said.
This is not the first time the mayor has taken heat from activists and residents in recent months regarding comments he’s made on Twitter about the recent protests and defund police movements.
In July, the mayor wrote in a tweet that “to save Black lives — and all lives — there are better alternatives to defunding the police.”
Although the mayor didn’t outright say “All lives matter” — a phrase typically used to counter “Black Lives Matter” — many residents pointed out the similarity, calling it “tone-deaf.”
“I don’t think he was necessarily trying to say ‘All Lives Matter’ but the fact that he couldn’t sort of predict the reaction to it is concerning,” Aaron Zisser, San Jose’s former independent police auditor, said at the time. “The problem is more than just with the culture of the police department, it has something to do with the politics and messaging coming from the mayor and other elected leadership as well.”
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Author: Maggie Angst