SAN JOSE (AP) - San Jose’s police chief, backed up by the city’s mayor, said Thursday that officers have been targeted by coordinated, violent attacks from agitators who hid inside crowds of peaceful protesters and then turned the streets of downtown San Jose into a “war zone.”
Mayor Sam Liccardo stood beside Police Chief Eddie Garcia at a news conference Thursday in a show of support for the police department, which has come under criticism for heavy handedness at ongoing protests against police violence sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The department has used tear gas and fired rubber bullets at the crowd, and an officer was suspended after being caught on video in an expletive-laden outburst at a female protester.
Garcia played a 5-minute video of footage collected from several days of chaotic street violence in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley. Video included rioters bashing windows of civilian and police vehicles, wheeling flaming dumpsters through the streets and hurling objects at police lines. It showed an injured officer being dragged to safety by his colleagues and another injured officer lying on the ground.
“When my boots hit the ground, I stepped into a war zone. It is not hyperbole,” said Capt. Jason Dwyer of the department’s special operations division. He recounted rocks, bottles and chunks of asphalt being thrown at officers last Friday and in the days that followed. “I have never seen anything like it.”
Garcia said he wanted to address public criticism that officers have been too severe in their use of force against protesters.
“What started out Friday as peaceful, righteous demonstrations against injustice saw an insurrection of pre-planned violence in complete determination to destroy property,” Garcia said.
He described “agitators hiding in the crowd” of peaceful protesters and officers getting hit with metal rebar, chunks of asphalt and “rocks and bottles in massive numbers” both from the ground and at times from rooftops. Last Friday night, an officer was punched, knocked unconscious and treated at a hospital, he said.
At a Saturday afternoon protest outside City Hall, there was “a large coordinated attack on officers with flying projectiles thrown by about 30 people” who struck at the same time from various spots in a crowd of about 300, Garcia said.
In several cases, police intelligence identified suspects planning to attack police, he said.
At a Monday evening demonstration at City Hall, “we identified agitators who brought in heavy black duffel bags” filled with rocks and some people were armed with knives and handheld radios to communicate with others in the crowd, Garcia said.
Garcia did not specify whether any of the protesters are believed to be affiliated with any group or whether any of the “agitators” were among more than 150 related arrests in San Jose in the last week.
“You’ve got sporadic agitators in the crowd. But we have intelligence showing some have hand-held radios,” he said. “There are levels of sophistication and coordination.”
An 8:30 p.m. curfew imposed Sunday helped thin crowds by nightfall and decreased the violence, he said.
Garcia again apologized Thursday for the behavior of the officer who shouted aggressively at demonstrators, calling it unprofessional and saying it won’t be tolerated. He said the department will investigate its conduct during the protests and “will hold ourselves accountable” for any mistakes.
Liccardo, who knelt with protesters outside City Hall over the weekend, said the police response helped “to protect the safety of people in the crowds as well as the officers.”
“It was chaos. A lot was being thrown at officers, they showed admirable restraint,” Liccardo said.
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