SAN JOSE (KPIX) – A petition to defund the San Jose State University police department picked up steam on social media Tuesday, collecting more than 200 signatures.
San Jose State University Assistant Professor Nikki Yeboah said she and nine other black faculty and staff members authored the petition, with the help of other non-black allies.
“When we’re saying divest from police, we’re not saying abolish police,” said Yeboah, who has worked in the Communications Studies Department for four years.
Yeboah said the petition was created to start a community dialogue about redirecting funds from San Jose State’s police department to the university’s students. She said many students struggle to pay for housing and food and experience other insecurities.
“We never have enough money in our budget to address this so if we are to divest from the police, this is where it needs to go, it needs to go back to us,” Yeboah said.
She said she began to talk to other faculty members about how they could be part of the calls for police reform after the death of George Floyd and recent Black Lives Matter protests.
“I felt that it was time to look within our own institution and see what kind of changes needed to be addressed,” said Yeboah.
But Yeboah’s research into claims of excessive force and police brutality within the San Jose State’s police department began more than a year ago when she wrote a play about police violence in the community.
“It was during the process of doing the research for that performance that I realized how San Jose State itself was implicated in these narratives,” she said.
Among the cases she discovered was the brutal beating of Philip Chong, in 2016, a mentally ill man who was accused of masturbating and watching pornography in the school’s library. Officer Johnathan Silva’s body camera captured him beating Chong, which left him with broken ribs and a punctured lung.
The university later fired Silva for excessive force, but reinstated him after he won his appeal.
In the petition, the authors wrote, “At San Jose State University, our University Police Department has a demonstrated history of violence and failure to act in the best interest of the community they are sworn to serve and protect.”
Among their demands is a call to disarm police, create a community review board to oversee police actions, implement the #8CantWait guidelines and decrease the police budget by 50 percent.
“We’re not just saying defund police for the heck of it, we’re saying reinvest in us,” said Yeboah. “How can we make the police on our campus work for us, and in what ways do we need them.”
SJSU Senior Director of Media Relations Kenneth Mashinchi released a statement to KPIX, which said that the university began creating an advisory board on June 18 to begin a “deep dive with our University Police Department in the effectiveness of overall operations” and that “the university appreciates the concerns shared in the petition.”