(KRON) — Crowd control enforcement decisions made by Caltrans and police on Cinco de Mayo in San Jose are being blasted by state political leaders as “racist” and fear-driven.
San Jose residents who went out to celebrate the Mexican holiday were blocked or turned around from the city’s downtown area because of extensive highway closures.
“Normal traffic controls are one thing – but shutting down major highway access on the pretense of fear of multicultural celebrations of Cinco de Mayo is racist targeting, and blatantly unconstitutional as it violates First Amendment rights to freedom of assembly,” State Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) and Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) wrote in a joint statement Monday.
The San Jose Police Department said it takes a “zero-tolerance” approach every Cinco de Mayo because San Jose “has historically drawn large crowds from outside the city, many of whom did not celebrate lawfully.” Police arrested 115 people over the weekend and responded to more than 2,500 emergency 911 calls.
Traffic and crowd control enforcement carried out by police and Caltrans went too far, and violated the state’s “California for All” values, according to Cortese and Kalra. “We can’t allow government agencies to stereotype our community and its residents,” Cortese and Kalra wrote.
The senator and assemblyman said they will investigate to find out who is responsible for crime and traffic enforcement decisions made concerning the holiday.
Starting at 7 p.m. Friday, Caltrans closures of off-ramps begin on Highway 101, Interstate 280, and Highway 87 through downtown. Mayor Matt Mahan told KRON4 on Friday that, “the main message I have is we are taking an aggressive stance on sideshows and street races.”
On Monday, SJPD acknowledged that many Cinco de Mayo events “were peaceful, and a majority of community members and visitors lawfully enjoyed the cultural celebration.”
Cinco de Mayo weekend arrests
The SJPD said it took preventative measures with “zero tolerance for criminal behavior.” “Proactive patrols” and “zero tolerance” between May 5-7 resulted in the following, according to SJPD:
Total Calls for Service: 2,642
Total Arrests: 115
Total Vehicle Impounds: 30
Total Citations Issued: 407
Total Reports Taken: 352
Total Firearms seized: 6
Low Riders Speak Out
Low rider car club members were especially excited for this Cinco de Mayo because, for the first time in 30 years, cruising was legal. The city lifted its 30-year-old ban on cruising last year.
“Our Low Rider and the greater Latina/o/x community looked forward to celebrating historically significant events with pride and dignity,” according to a statement written by the United Lowrider Council of San Jose, as well as City Council members Sergio Jimenez, Omar Torres, Peter Ortiz, and Domingo Candelas.
“Unfortunately, our community if feeling targeted and once again ostracized during this weekend’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations. This is absolutely unacceptable. San Jose must do better,” the joint statement continued.
An excessive police presence was in East San Jose and downtown during Mexican-American culture celebrations, and it rose to the level of “profiling” specific ethnic groups, the low riders and councilmembers said.
Controversial Highway Offramp Closures and Diversions
San Jose draws big crowds of locals and people from all over Northern California every Cinco de Mayo weekend. Every year on this holiday, the SJPD receives a spike in 911 calls from residents and business owners who are highly concerned about unsanctioned gatherings.
Officer Steve Aponte said “reactive” enforcement tactics “actually resulted in large numbers of arrests and citations, and did little to alleviate the concerns of residents and business owners.”
Aponte explained, “Approximately 20 years ago, we studied the crowd control measures that other cities employed during large scale events of all types. The San Jose Police Department developed a proactive approach to reducing gridlock and crime that relied on strategic traffic diversions as a key component. These traffic diversions are only employed when traffic gridlock is starting to occur, and/or when crowds start to become large and unruly enough that they present a public safety issue. In no way is our response to Cinco de Mayo intended or designed to inhibit anyone’s ability to celebrate the holiday. It is simply a proactive approach to increase public safety around an event that has historically drawn large crowds from outside the city, many of whom did not celebrate lawfully.”
Police have used this approach to Cinco de Mayo traffic and crowd control for nearly two decades.
SJPD, however, admitted to communication failures about the closures in advance of the holiday. “In the future, we will strive to announce any planned responses to large scale events with enough advanced notice to ensure that the community and our elected officials have adequate notice to prepare accordingly,” Aponte wrote.
Caltrans says SJPD and CHP asked for highway closures
A Caltrans spokesman told KRON4 that its crews blocked traffic flowing off major highways into downtown at the request of SJPD and the California Highway Patrol. This Cinco de Mayo traffic control request happens every year. The request was made for public safety and traffic congestion reasons, according to CalTrans.
“The off-ramps that were closed are all ramps that lead into the downtown area. Historically downtown San Jose sees an influx of hundreds (if not thousands) of people gathering in the local streets, organizing locally and hosting parades and/or marches during Cinco de Mayo,” CalTrans’ spokesman wrote.