Some 40, mostly youth of color, assembled late Sunday afternoon, Dec. 14, at City Hall and then took over one side of two major thoroughfares to march through downtown San José, Calif., to the annual “Christmas in the Park” festival.
The ably led and disciplined marchers, organized by the new group San José Fight for Justice, proceeded without incident, loudly chanting along the way, as many motorists honked in support. The demonstration nearly doubled in size by the time it reached the festival site.
Participants included activists from San Jose Peace and Justice Center, the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Justice for Josiah, Plumbers and Steamfitters union, the Friday Peace Vigil and other groups.
Among the favorite chants: “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “I can’t breathe, we can’t breathe,” “No justice, no peace,” “From Ferguson to Palestine, police violence is a crime,” “Hey cops, what do you say, how many kids did you kill today?” and “2, 4, 6, 8, down with the police state.”
Shortly after arriving at the festival, crowded with parents with their children, the protesters held a die-in to spread awareness of the issue of police violence and the new mass movement sparked by the cop murder of 18-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and subsequent killings at the hands of police of Eric Garner in New York’s Staten Island and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
While many actions inspired by the nationwide militant protests of these police killings have taken place in recent days in San Francisco and Oakland, this was only the second such protest in San José. The young organizers emphasized that it won’t be the last.
Among those who spoke at a brief rally at the end of the die-in, was Laurie Valdez. Accompanied by her four-year-old son Josiah, Valdez told her tragic story as hundreds of onlookers listened intently. On Feb. 21, 2014, her partner Antonio Guzman Lopez, an undocumented construction worker, was murdered at the hands of San Jose State University police in a residential area adjacent to the campus. Shot two times in the back, Lopez died instantly, with one bullet going through his heart. (Details of the case, including the highly dubious police account, can be read here.)
“We can’t be silent anymore,” Valdez concluded after appealing for support for the campaign she and her supporters have launched to get “Justice for Josiah.”
A young organizer of the action wound up the rally by urging everyone present to join the movement for justice, concluding: “We’re not just standing for Ferguson, we’re standing for our city and for the world.”
Two more die-ins
Following the die-in at Christmas in the Park, two more die-ins were conducted as the protesters made their back to City Hall, again taking over streets along the way. The concluding die-in occurred at the busy intersection of Santa Clara and Fourth Streets, next to City Hall Plaza. Laurie Valdez made another impassioned appeal to the participants to support her campaign for justice.
San José police, using unmarked SUVs, held up traffic in both directions for the duration of the action, even for a few minutes after the die-in ended while protesters discussed further actions. Finally, an officer, sounding exasperated, addressed the demonstrators: “If you are just discussing now, please move to the side so working people can get home.”
With the surging momentum of the movement against police violence across the country, the San José police were clearly on their best behavior for this demonstration—a most significant one politically for the city and the whole South Bay.