If Phil White Wants to Do What's Right, He Should Retire from the SJPD

In closed session last week, the San Jose City Council decided not to challenge the arbitration process that allowed Phil White to be rehired by San Jose Police Department. White was originally fired from the department after he put out a series of tweets including,"By the way, if anyone feels they can't breathe or their lives matter, I'll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun." The references were to the Black Lives Matters movement.

The day before the closed session meeting, Phil White issued a public apology on mainstream media. As contrite as his apology was, the City should have moved forward with challenging the arbitration process to pursue litigation to fire officer White again. And while government and law enforcement seemed to have moved on, communities of color are still saddled with the issue afresh in our minds and psyche. Some practical questions still linger, despite the apology.

What assurances do we have he won’t react that way again when he feels put in verbal jeopardy? I imagine cops hear criticism all the time, what happens when a community member starts razzing him? While he is on desk duty now, how do we know that won't change given the staffing needs of the department? And if he goes into the field -- an environment where race will come into play – are we willing to risk the public’s safety?

For many in San Jose, his re-employment rubber-stamped by city council, is yet another straw put on the already broken backs of communities of color struggling to live with dignity and pride. It contradicts all that hard working San Jose parents who have taught their children about respect and honor amid a system that doesn't reciprocate. We would be wrong to expect a teen of any color in any neighborhood to just gnash his teeth and accept this officer in their communities. It is akin to saying that "justice doesn't work for you!"

Some who have seen White's apology may ask what he can do to make amends. If he does not want to be a detriment to the city, he should retire.

Phil White must realize that his reinstatement presents a dilemma not only for the police administration, but some of his fellow officers as well. Efforts to build better relations with the community have been tainted with the "White effect" -- the community having skepticism due to the force accepting a person back into the department after he made such offensive statements. And should we expect an already beleaguered police force to have to carry the burden of working with this officer, knowing that his presence could be the catalyst for escalated tension?

Even relations with city government in general stays frozen while White is still on the force. In many public statements and messaging when it comes to reconciling the race and class equity chasm that has developed in San Jose, elected officials have been steadfast in their commitment to equality and fair treatment for all. The city has even pushed a hashtag campaign, called #WeAreSanJose, a nod to an inclusive future where all are accepted and contribute to our city. Yet, not challenging White's arbitration contradict those platitudes. When presented with the first opportunity to show that We are San Jose is a slogan that applies to all of its residents, no matter their race or socioeconomic background, they decided that it wasn’t worth the effort or cost.

And if the city is unwilling to quite literally put their money where their mouth us (officials have cited the cost of litigation and their analysis that winning the arbitration challenge would be unlikely) there is only one person who can resolve this. And that is the person who started this all -- Phil White.

If he is sincere in his apology, Phil White should do what’s best for the City, its people, and the San Jose Police Department and retire.

About Anthony King

Anthony King is a homeless advocate, formerly homeless himself and now actively working to end homelessness in San Jose. He is also part of Silicon Valley Renter’s Rights Coalition working to create rent stabilization in San Jose.

This article is part of the categories: Community  / Law & Justice  / San Jose//South Bay 
This article is part of the tags: Black Lives Matter  / Justice  / Officer White  / Police Brutality  / Police Misconduct  / San Jose  / SJPD 


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