Redistributive policy

San Jose Nixes’ ‘obviously racist’ policy to ban Lowrider cruise

Growing up in San Jose, council member Raul Peralez found himself sitting on a sidewalk while police searched his car — dozens of times.

His offence? Driving slowly in his forest green 1965 Impala Super Sport lowrider as a person of color.

“I was often told (by officers) that because of the car I was driving, the way I was dressed and because I was on a cruise, they had a reasonable suspicion that I was a gang member or that I had weapons or drugs with me,” Peralez said. , who later became a cop himself. “Officers never found anything in my car, but they always discovered that I was a varsity athlete in high school in Cupertino and later a math student at San Jose State University.”

The downtown council member said it was city policy – ​​which banned cruising the streets of San Jose – that gave officers the right to unfairly target people like him because of the color of their skin or their culture.

Now, for the first time in three decades, that law is overturned and decked out cars can once again drive on the streets. The Chicano community of San Jose celebrates the victory.

The San Jose City Council this week unanimously approved termination fees and fines associated with the cruise, arguing that it is inherently discriminatory. The ban, which prohibits lowriders and other tricked-out cars from driving slowly on city streets, was put in place in the early 1990s to curb gang violence.

“As a council, we (said) this is no longer a policy we should adopt,” said Peralez, who led the charge to repeal the ban. “It’s not the one our police department (says) actually uses…and it’s blatantly discriminatory and racist when you look at the wording.”

Cruising has been part of Latin American culture since the 1940s and has become a symbol of Mexican-American resistance against discrimination during the civil rights era. Two decades later, it has become nationally associated with gang violence and illegal activity. Cities across the country have enacted laws prohibiting the repetitive driving of any motor vehicle past a congested traffic checkpoint or near a checkpoint.

“So downtown, if you miss your turn and get lost and go around multiple times, you can basically violate that ordinance,” Peralez said. “It was very, very wide.”

The ordinance was so broad that officers could stop and search anyone driving a lowrider. It affected brown and black residents the most, the council member said, and they were repeatedly arrested by San Jose police.

Council member Sergio Jimenez suffered the same discrimination.

“I’ve been on the sidewalk many times in my life in East San Jose,” Jimenez said. “It was for no reason. I was never stopped, none of that. I just stopped because a vehicle was too low or maybe we were passing a little too often.”

Law enforcement officials have pushed back against the repeal, arguing that the policy helps stop dangerous activities like sideshows, especially as traffic fatalities rise in San Jose.

Police Chief Anthony Mata has offered an alternative to repealing the ban – allowing lowriders at permitted events – but policymakers have said there are enough rules to protect city streets.

Community leaders in San Jose and across the state supported the city’s decision to repeal the ban, noting the contributions of the lowrider community.

“San Jose is where the pillars of lowrider culture are,” said David Polanco, president of the United Lowrider Council of San Jose (ULCSJ). “Regardless of the no-cruise signs, the culture has flourished in many ways.”

He said the council of lowriders organizes toy and food drives and has worked with Kaiser Permanente and the San Jose Public Library to give back to the community. More and more young people are getting involved, he added, which keeps them away from other dangerous activities.

National City Vice Mayor Marcus Bush, whose city is outside of San Diego, said his community also lifted its cruise ban this week. He said San Diego businesses saw 20-30% revenue increases on days when cruise events took place. He thinks San Jose could see similar results.

“It’s more than about cars. It’s about music. It’s about art, it’s about food, it’s about people coming together and celebrating,” Bush said.

John Ulloa, a professor who teaches a course on the history of lowriding at San Francisco State University, called the ban an “archaic” law rooted in institutionalized racism.

“Lowriding is not only part of the social and cultural fabric of San Jose,” he said, “but a worldwide global phenomenon that is celebrated as artistic and an expression of cultural pride.”

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.