By John Woolfolk
For 36 years, local activists have commemorated the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr.'s historic 1965 civil rights march from Selma to
Montgomery, Ala., with an annual "Freedom Train" ride from San Jose
to San Francisco.
But when that train leaves Diridon Station next Monday, the holiday
celebrating King's birthday, some local civil rights leaders won't be
aboard. They are furious that the ride's producers are honoring as
chief sponsors the officers' union for the San Jose police force,
whose tactics with "communities of color" have come under fire.
"After years and months of abusing the community, the San Jose Police
Department has the nerve to show up under the banner of Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr.," Pastor Jethroe Moore II, president of the San
Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, wrote in a Wednesday letter to Bonita
Carter-Cox, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association
of Santa Clara Valley, which produces the event.
Moore, who said he and perhaps others would not board the train this
year, demanded the association remove mention of the NAACP as a
sponsor for the event and from implying its support for the San Jose
But the association replied that honoring newly seated San Jose
Police Officers' Association President George Beattie and his
predecessor, Bobby Lopez, with awards for their sponsorship efforts
"We regret that the NAACP does not agree with our organization's
policy to publicly acknowledge one of our much needed and valued
sponsors," the association said in a statement.
"If it were not for the efforts and contributions of the SJPOA we
would not have the Freedom Train this year."
The association went on to suggest the NAACP work out its differences
with the cops rather than try to drag the Freedom Train into it.
Beattie said in a statement that he and Lopez "are saddened" by the
controversy over the awards and that they "have been and will
continue to be supportive of organizations that benefit our
community," including the association.
They attributed complaints about the conduct of San Jose police
officers to "a small group of activists" whose opinions do not
"accurately reflect the community as a whole."
It was unclear how much the officers contributed toward the event or
how long they have sponsored it. Association officials could not be
reached, and the SJPOA would not comment beyond its written statement.
Among other sponsors are the Peace Officers Research Association of
California, Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers
Association, Valley Transportation Authority, Yahoo, Comerica Bank and Target.
San Jose police officers have been under fire from local civil rights
activists for their handling of complaints about officer behavior,
the fatal shooting in May of a knife-wielding and mentally ill
Vietnamese man, and the videotaped beating in September of an
uncooperative Vietnamese man who reportedly had threatened a roommate
with a knife.
In November, leaders of the city's ethnic communities including
Moore called for San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis' resignation.
Mercury News reports have suggested city officers are quick to resort
to force over minor offenses and arrest Latinos disproportionately on
public drunkenness charges.
The San Jose POA has disputed the paper's findings and said the
officers acted appropriately under stressful and potentially
Moore said he is working with the mayor's office to arrange a meeting
with the officers' leaders over differences, and that officers should
seek to repair relations first through open discussion.
"The way you begin the healing process is with dialogue," Moore said,
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346.
if you"re interested
The Freedom Train leaves at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 18, from San
Jose"s Diridon Station, 65 Cahill St. Tickets are $10 and may be
ordered from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association, P.O. Box
4738, San Jose, CA 95150. Make checks payable to the MLK Association
of Santa Clara Valley and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope
to receive your ticket.