By Stephanie Boulos and Sophia Barberini
SAN JOSE, CA – During protests in May 2020, demonstrators in the City of San Jose experienced brutal and racially aimed repression by police, with many protestors being seriously injured, prompting a class action civil rights lawsuit from the NAACP of San Jose and Silicon Valley De-Bug.
On March 11, the NAACP of San Jose and Silicon Valley De-Bug detailed the class action lawsuit they are pursuing against the City of San Jose after San Jose Police exhibited extreme violence toward Black Lives Matter protesters beginning on May 29, 2020.
Following the murder of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter supporters gathered in downtown San Jose to stand against police brutality. This peaceful protest quickly turned violent, not by demonstrators, but by police, who began charging and shooting at the crowd with impact munition and tear gas.
Seeking justice through the courts, civil rights attorneys Rachel Lederman, James B. Chanin, Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, and R. Michael Flynn (members of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area) will be representing the plaintiffs in the hopes of “reconciling the harm [the San Jose] police have caused.”
During the press conference, the lead attorney, Lederman, explained that “we are asking for everyone who was injured or wrongfully arrested to be compensated and we’re asking for significant reforms of the ways that San Jose Police are trained and directed to police protests.”
In the press conference, Ressl-Moyer contended that the San Jose Police’s “display of force was an egregious disregard of San Jose’s residents’ rights to freely express their disapproval of violent and discriminatory policing.”
Further, she asserted, “It is time for the city to reconcile with the harm its police has caused, to interrupt its culture of white supremacy, and to end a legacy of violence.”
Attorney Ressl-Moyer illustrated the injuries incurred by some of the protestors that day, including CA State Assemblymember Alex Lee, by providing photographs and details of their injuries, both mental and physical. These injuries included wounds from impact munition, PTSD, and bruises from being hit by police batons.
Most notably, she depicted the injuries suffered by Michael Acosta, who lost his eye after he was shot with impact munition.
Michael Acosta appeared at the press conference to share his experience. “Everything happened so fast. Suddenly, there were explosives, people started to run,” he explained. “As I continued to stand there stunned, still capturing video with my phone, I was suddenly struck violently in the face… I fell. I was blinded… the explosions still going on around me and it was honestly terrifying.”
His injury forced him to decide between losing his eye and risking complete blindness. “I don’t know if you can imagine how hard it is to have to decide whether or not you’re going to permanently remove your eye,” he explained.
The impacts of his injury have gone beyond physical trauma. Acosta asserted, “Since the incident, I don’t feel like myself. Sometimes, I don’t recognize myself. My actions, my thoughts, they seem different, foreign to me.”
Despite the physical and mental trauma Acosta faced as a result of the police brutality during the protest, he concluded that he regretted losing his eye, but he ““[did] not regret sharing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The president of the NAACP of San Jose and Silicon Valley, Rev. Jethroe Moore, II, has declared the actions of the San Jose Police Department’s Command Staff as “inexcusable and warranting consequences,” and representing precedents of “racism, xenophobia, and prejudicial sentiment in our society against Black people.”
Moore, II, evidently still distraught by the occurrences of that day, shakily stated that day “has scarred us in a way that we are really not sure how we are scarred. I had never seen the police department this aggressive… the police who say they don’t feel this way turned on the community that they were there to serve.”
He added, “We must stand up against those that were in command that day, that led and forced those officers to act in such a way that was detrimental to not only the community, but also to the police department.”
The NAACP of San Jose and Silicon Valley ultimately hopes, with this lawsuit, to generate change within the San Jose Police Department and how they engage with protestors.
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