SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — The arrest of a Latino community leader outside a Target store for soliciting voter registrations has prompted a backlash from members of the community.
Members of a Latino civic group and their supporters on Thursday protested outside the store near King and Story Roads in East San Jose where the incident happened on Monday.
On that day, Salvador “Chava” Bustamente, Executive Director of Latinos United for a New America (LUNA), had arrived to support a colleague who was being asked to leave while taking voter registrations in front of the store.
Omar Vazquez, an organizer with LUNA, said he was trying to register people to vote as they walked into the store. As the confrontation with police escalated, Vazquez filmed on his cellphone as Bustamante was arrested for misdemeanor tresspassing.
Police said customers had complained to store security about the signature gathering, and that both Bustamante and Vazquez refused to leave when security asked them to. After officers arrived, both were given another chance to leave, according to police.
Bustamante was booked and in custody for five hours before getting released, he said Thursday.
“I’m not complaining about me spending time in jail. That was a conscious decision that I made,” Bustamante said. “I see this as a very small sacrifice compared to the sacrifices people have to make everyday.”
Members of LUNA and their supporters, including some San Jose city council members, held a press conference in front of the store Thursday to call on Target “to respect our community effort to register voters.”
“We are willing to be arrested not once, but as many times as necessary to assert this fundamental right,” said Bustamante.
Registering voters isn’t allowed at store entrances, sidewalks and parking lots under a 2012 California Supreme Court decision that defines public forums, San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia said.
Garcia, who also attended Thursday’s press conference, stood behind his officers saying they did nothing wrong. “That doesn’t mean that when the dust settles we can’t go back and look at our policies and procedures and under the confines of the law have a different outcome from what happened on Monday and we’re trying to do that,” said Garcia.
The Police Department and City Attorney’s Office interpreted the 2012 decision into the police duty manual under a section on expressive conduct at shopping centers and malls. Garcia said the department would see if there are certain steps that can be added in compliance with the law before resorting to a citation or arrest.
Target issued a statement saying: “Target is committed to providing a distraction-free shopping environment for our guests. Therefore, we do not permit solicitation or petitioning at our stores regardless of the cause or issue being represented. To be clear, this policy is not about the cause being represented.”
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