Tatiana Sanchez | San Jose Mercury News | Link to Article
NORTH SAN JOSE — Community members and local law enforcement officials worked toward building bridges Thursday during a forum on policing and race relations.
The dialogue, hosted by the grass-roots organization People Acting in Community or “PACT,” brought about 200 residents, faith leaders and public and law enforcement officials to the Bible Way Christian Center on Oakland Road.
Organizers said they aim to protect the community and “stop the criminalization of African-American, Latino, Muslim and immigrant community members,” who they say are often targeted by police based on their race. The night included testimonies, small group discussions and questions for public officials about establishing greater oversight within the San Jose Police Department and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department.
Some spoke about uncomfortable and negative encounters with police in which they say they felt racially profiled.
San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia, who spoke at the event, said none of the officers present at the forum was required to be there but they attended to listen to community members in order to work toward unity.
“Please look around you … they’re not here for me,” Garcia said. “There’s not a single officer that was ordered to be here. They’re here for you. We together are humbled by the invitation to your house.”
Garcia said it’s important for people, in particular police officers, to recognize their own biases.
“We have to have our own internal oversight,” he said. “We have to have our own internal clock that understands and sees how these issues affect our communities. And we’re trying. We’re working on it.”
Tensions between communities of color and police have intensified across the nation for several years, following the deaths of several black men after fatal encounters with police. The majority of the men were unarmed. Law enforcement officials have also seen an uptick in attacks against officers, particularly in the last year.
“The question is how to dismantle structural racism, and how we’ve felt that and gone through it and what we can do to change it,” said Alondra Garcia, a 21-year-old leader with PACT. “We’re trying to knock a pebble off this big boulder that we’re trying to fight.”
Garcia said there’s power in having two parties sit down to discuss difficult and often complex issues.
“Protesting can only do so much, but dialogue and speaking face to face and listening — most importantly listening — is what’s going to make the most change and impact,” he said.