A black community activist who trained San Jose police recruits on implicit bias for three years was shot in a testicle by a rubber bullet during a recent protest, prompting the city's mayor to say that more needs to be done to confront police brutality — but that defunding police will only undermine those efforts.
Derrick Sanderlin, a 27-year-old community organizer, suffered potentially permanent injuries by a rubber bullet at a May 29 protest demonstration, the mayor’s office said in a press release Monday.
Sanderlin, who knows San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia personally, said he was disheartened to see how officers were treating protesters. Video captured by KABC-TV’s news helicopter overhead purportedly showed the moments an officer fired a riot gun at Sanderlin, who had approached with his hands up.
"I really just couldn't watch it anymore," Sanderlin said. "And just kind of made like a parallel walkover, put my hands up, and just stood in the line of the fire and asked them to please not do this."
"I pause for a moment like maybe this isn't, maybe this doesn't hurt and falling afterwards is like the most painful experience," he said.
Sanderlin, who required emergency surgery on his testicle, said doctors told him they wouldn’t be able to tell if the injury rendered him unable to father children until he and his wife tried to conceive.
"And I just started weeping at the thought of that,” his wife, Cayla, whom he married four years ago, said. “You know, we, we do want kids and we're very close to having kids."
In response to the incident, Garcia called Sanderlin personally and issued a statement, saying: "Derrick has been a real leader in our communities' efforts to reduce bias and discrimination through dialogue. I assured him we will be investigating this incident."
“The way they've treated people out there has ... been really heartbreaking because the chief is like a good person, who's really trying to do the right thing," Sanderlin told KABC.
His attorney, Sarah Marinho, who is filing Sanderlin’s lawsuit against the city and police department, argued officers “were aiming for a body part that is prohibited when using those type of riot guns. You're not meant to aim at the groin or the head ever.”
Garcia has defended his officers’ use of force during demonstrations and Capt. Jason Dwyer, the department’s special operations commander, has likened the situation in the streets to a “war zone,” Fox 23 reported.
One officer, Jared Yuen, 33, has been placed on desk duty pending an internal investigation into his behavior after he was seen shouting expletives at a female protester and firing rubber bullets at another man in two separate viral videos.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo – who has since proposed a ban on police use of rubber bullets – responded to the incident involving Sanderlin on Monday, rolling out a series of police reforms to be adopted in the city's budget next fiscal year to further hold officers accountable.
In the same breath, Liccardo said defunding the police – the latest demand advocated by Black Lives Matter after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis – would undermine those reforms and only hurt black communities.
"We have much work to do to confront our long and terrible history of police brutality against black and brown Americans,” Liccardo said Monday. "Defunding urban police departments won’t help us do it. It is the wrong idea at the worst possible time and the budget released tomorrow will reflect that."
The mayor noted that all new initiatives require funding, especially to backfill the thousands of police hours that are spent in training classes instead of on patrol. He argued that though the San Jose Police Department has “made recent progress in eliminating the longstanding disparity between officers' use of force rates and arrest rates against persons of color,” the police reforms started in San Jose in previous years need to go farther.
Liccardo said additional changes should include altered union contracts and repealing laws that create obstacles to ensuring officer accountability — particularly the firing of bad cops.
“Defunding police undermines progress on these and other tools to improve accountability, training and recruiting,” Liccardo said.
Citing U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the mayor's office said, “communities of color are disproportionate victims of serious and violent crimes, and that any cuts in police staffing will disproportionately harm the very communities that need to see progress.”
"Defunding police will hurt the very people who have suffered the most from systemic racism in this nation," Liccardo continued. "Rich, white communities and businesses in suburban malls will just accelerate the hiring of private security guards."
His new police reforms include collecting data to track every patdown, stop, arrest or use of force by race, and publishing that data; hiring external experts to analyze data and make recommendations; investing millions of dollars in body-worn cameras and video data storage; imposing mandatory training for officers in violence de-escalation and implicit racial bias; utilizing data tools to detect misconduct-prone officers earlier; enhancing psychological testing and screening in the city's police academies; and intentional investment in recruiting officers to better reflect the community's diversity.