Raj Jayadev

Did a Court Just Deal a Fatal Blow to Tasers for Police?

In what is being heralded as a landmark decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently declared that police officers could be held liable for using a Taser without proper cause. And in making their determination, the court also set new legal parameters on how law enforcement is to use Tasers, stating, "The objective facts must indicate that the suspect poses an immediate threat to the officer or a member of the public." The federal finding substantially changes the landscape of Taser usage, and may signal the end of Tasers for law enforcement agencies who are now more vulnerable to civil and criminal action then ever before.

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What if Henry Louis Gates Were Not an Acclaimed Professor?

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Professor Henry Louis Gates, recently arrested, gets to share a beer with the man who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, at the White House with the President of the United States. It is a highly uncommon ending to an unfortunately very common occurrence – a man of color citing racial profiling after an arrest.

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Homeland Security Show Misses the Real Drama

After months of anticipated debate on the politics of airing a Homeland Security reality show on primetime on ABC, the Jan. 6 premiere may have ended the argument before it even could get started.

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Fires of Frustration

The first image I saw in our local San Jose paper about France was a silhouette of a young man in a hoodie, holding a bat over his head and standing triumphantly on top of a burning car. I thought it was from New York, Oakland, New Orleans. Had I not seen the dateline, I still would have thought the picture came from those American places after skimming the article. The reasons that brought this young man to a mixed display of rage and power are issues that continue to burn with youth of color here -- police brutality, racism, alienation.

That of course, is what has everyone so scared. The same combustible conditions that ignited France exist for young people in cities and suburbs all around the world. If thousands of cars on fire, 12-year-olds shooting at police and schools being destroyed is the effect of years of discrimination, unemployment and a high profile case of police misconduct in France, who knows what could happen elsewhere.

More than two weeks later, although the fire has threatened to catch in neighboring countries, it seems that a repeat of 1968 -- the year that young people worldwide rose up and challenged the standing governments of their time -- is unlikely. As for the young people of France, draconian measures such as curfews and deportations have already begun. If these youths felt discriminated against before, just wait till the smoke clears. The young people of France will be taught a lesson, as young people were in Los Angeles after the 1992 Rodney King riots, through increased law enforcement and arrest rates. Fire, the lesson goes, is not a way to make change.

And why didn't the fire catch, with such abundant fuel? Pundits and journalists say it is because the French youths, in contrast to those of '68, lack any coherent ideology. These current "hooligans" and "vandals" have no political aim except voicing their "disgust with the government." In 1968 they at least had an agenda, a manifesto and a worldview of socialism to contain and guide their energy.

But the youths of France have already communicated a political concept to young people around the world who identify with their plight. That message is not a uniting, long-term world-view, but rather lies in the immediate tactic itself -- if they will not see you, light up the city.

Just before Paris started burning, on Oct. 22, myself and other community organizers held a march and rally in East San Jose to stop police brutality. We staged the rally in a neighborhood composed predominantly of Mexican immigrants that has had increasing reports of police harassment. The event was particularly timely because San Jose is going through the biggest police brutality trail we have ever seen. The case is of Michael Walker, a state drug agent who mistakenly killed Rudy Cardenas, a father of five. Walker is the first drug agent in California history to go to trial for killing someone in the line of duty.

The rally was successful, in that hundreds of young people came out, marched and chanted. Most were under the age of 25. In their eyes they are counterparts to the youths of France, suffering police brutality, high unemployment and dwindling opportunities to improve their lives. Most are sons and daughters of immigrants.

If the state agent is convicted, those young people who marched will feel a long-awaited moment of justice was served. "Justice for Rudy" was their main rallying cry. But if the agent is acquitted, what is the response of the young people of San Jose, who see in Michael Walker every cop that ever harassed them? We have already held the marches, rallies, vigils and prayer circles. Our tactics have been exhausted. After the images we've seen from France, though, there is now a new point of reference for another tactic, one that is as accessible to a group of kids in East San Jose as it is to youths in the projects surrounding Paris.

The tactic, destruction, may be inadvisable. Even the youths of France, when this is all over, might say so. But it is inarguably compelling to those who feel their "disgust with the government" is not being heard. A draconian response by the government is, at least, some response.

Some young people have already begun to talk of rioting after seeing France. But the only riots most of us in San Jose have seen have been at the end of the city's Cinco de Mayo parade, when youths have their own "cat and mouse" game with the cops. Nonetheless, the energy that arises at that annual event is contagious and powerful, and seems to mask a political energy -- it's the one day of the year that everyone gets together to get back at the police. Young people get tear-gassed and arrested, but every year they keep coming back. And every year there is a feeling on the street that if one more thing happens, like this one car getting tipped, or a cop hitting just one more person, this place might go off.

California Students Protest Cuts in Education

In the heart of Silicon Valley, in front of the very elegant Fairmont Hotel, a bunch of fired up students and nurses stopped a limo trying to enter the hotel. They surrounded it and rocked it back and forth. It looked like they might tip it over completely. Union officials, the ones who initially called everyone here, now had to personally escort the limo out of the teeth of danger. The besiegers only relented when they were told their target, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was not inside the vehicle.

When limousines are protected by union officials in Silicon Valley, you know California is in a hot political moment.

Authentic, car-rocking protest, not seen since Vietnam War protests and anti-Proposition 187 demonstrations, has returned to California. In 1994, Prop. 187 -- a bill that barred undocumented immigrants from services such as public schools and medical care -- triggered mass protests by the Latino community that made national news. In the days before the vote, over 100,000 people took to the streets, marking the largest march in Southern California's history. Although the proposition went on to pass, and was later struck down by the courts, it would be credited for alienating Latino voters from Gov. Pete Wilson and the state Republican Party, leading to the GOP's successive loses in state polls.

After this show of organizing strength by undocumented immigrants and their advocates, unions and Democratic politicians started taking Latinos more seriously, spearheading citizenship drives and organizing workers in the service economy.

Today, it is California students who are shaping up as the force giving muscle to street-level organizing against the governor, perhaps ushering a new era of mass protest over local issues in the state. This time, instead of an anti-immigrant initiative, it's the governor's proposed cuts in education and public services that is fueling grassroots mobilization among affected constituencies -- "special interests" to Arnold.

Students are adding bulk and confrontational energy to protests by firefighters, teachers and nurses that have grown in size -- 15,000 people in late May in Sacramento; thousands in Los Angeles on the same day; hundreds in San Francisco the month before; 2,000 in San Jose, which is not known for mass mobilizations.

At the San Jose protest against Schwarzenegger on March 25, labor officials scrambled to control the surge of students, mainly from East San Jose high schools, some of which have been ranked as the worst-resourced in the state. The angry students came in the hundreds, by bus or skateboard, and unaccompanied by teachers or community organizers. Police, hotel security and even union officials had to form a protective barrier to protect the hotel and the governor inside. The organizers kept asking the students to "take three steps back," to which one young woman responded, "We've taken too many steps back!"

If union bureaucrats protecting the governor sounds strange, consider the student walkouts that led up to the protest. The Bay Area Clear Channel station WILD 94.9-FM, popular among high school students and condemned by media critics as another brain-draining corporate entity, took calls by students across the Bay talking about how bad their schools were and how youths needed to fight back. When "The Dog House," the station's popular morning talk show that usually focuses on crank calls and strippers, uses airtime to support student walkouts, something new is emerging.

Early in the governor's term, university students and community college student activists were at odds. The state decided to give students who qualified for the UC or state system priority status for class registration and counseling at community colleges if they went to those schools first, as a way to make up for budget cuts in the university system. Community college students, however, were already sitting in overcrowded classrooms.

But the once-divided community college and university student movements are now strategizing together. Their statewide actions just weeks ago at the governor's offices in San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles were testimony to their new united front. For the first time in state history, the students have created a cross-system (UC, state and community college) coalition called Action in Defense of Education (AIDE).

The high school students' chants in front of the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose showed the youthful energy that could electrify future protests. First in Spanish, then in English to accommodate non-Hispanic union members, they stood shoulder to shoulder, chanting to the governor, "Nobody likes you!" It's a line usually aimed at the school bully; in this case, it was aimed at California's governor.

Imagining a Real Youth Movement

The day after the election I sat in a room with two-dozen early twenty-something political activists discussing Bush's victory. They were too gloomy to even feign hope. This group comprised not only members of the highly touted youth vote, but the very organizers who tried to deliver it.

After massive campus and community canvassing, national strategizing conferences and media campaigns centering around pop culture icons, the youth vote ultimately did not do what it set out to do – beat Bush. Keep the champagne corked and tell the DJ to cut the music, because the party ain't happening. But what happens to all that political energy after it has been harnessed, win or lose? Does it just evaporate?

The truth is, the potential of the youth vote actually was never about Nov. 2. It was about Nov. 3.

A record 20 million young voters came to the polls on Tuesday, an increase of 4.5 million from 2000, for whatever reason – a brother in Iraq, an Eminem video, rising tuition fees, or a P-Diddy "Vote or Die" ultimatum. Today, these same voters may already be back to the couch, remote in hand, watching Real World re-runs, defeated, cynical and rightfully dismissive anytime anyone tries to get them plugged into politics again. Lesson learned in 2004. Or, a significant number of youths could be ignited by the past few months, reborn with new-found political voice and drive.

The outcome will not only be a truer temperature check of youth political activism than abstract poll numbers, but will reveal how transformative, or superficial, the power of voting actually is for the hip-hop generation.

I remember having a similar "where do we go from here" get-together after a state election in 2000 that had youth in the spotlight. We had just lost Prop. 21 in California, which aimed (and has since succeeded) in locking up scores of young people under the guise of reducing crime. We didn't have Puff Daddy, but we had our own bells and whistles. We did banner drops on freeway overpasses, took over hotels and, like this election, stayed in front of the polls through the rain. Our statewide "youth movement" was inspiring, even in its defeat.

We hoped the coalitions we formed would be a stepping stone to long-term, substantive change, not just a temporary reaction to a legislative threat. But political infrastructures fell apart as quickly as they were built, a sad reality of "online organizing." Those who didn't get burned out returned to their independent, local struggles. I remember an organizer I looked up to telling us, "You can't win what you want in a voting booth, but you can lose what you got." The challenge we didn't acknowledge, and is now facing the national youth vote, is rooted in the way youth electoral organizing is done in the first place.

For one, it's built to climax at a particular finish line – Election Day. Any day after that just isn't on the strategy charts. There are of course obligated political messaging about how we always need to keep marching forward or whatever, but "Vote Or Die" sure doesn't have much broad-scoped vision.

Secondly, young people are always targeted as consumers, no matter if it's a product, a brand name or a political cause. This election's youth organizing drives were absolutely shameless in this way. Voting was sold to young people like Nike or Sprite is sold to the masses. But marketing is not organizing. No one wants to be led like sheep, even if it's to greener pastures.

The third and perhaps biggest obstacle is that voting is about choosing what's in front of you, while a movement is about creating choices. The gulf is about imagination. As Desmond Tutu said, it's not just about having a seat at the table, it's about setting the menu. If young people really did set the menu, I doubt they would be serving up the Democratic Party or John Kerry.

If the "youth movement" is going to be more than a mere footnote in George Bush's story of continuing manifest destiny, it won't be up to Puff Daddy or John Kerry. I don't even think it will be based on the actions of the college youth organizers who were trying to console each other that day after the election. A youth movement will be led by those who were as removed from the vote as they are from MTV. It will be based on the 24-year-old who is living on the streets of downtown San Jose, jobless, and keeps his poetry book hidden under his 40-bottle in his backpack. The same one who told me, as I was about to drive over to the polling station on voting day, that sometimes he hates himself. I don't reflect about what president we need when I think of him. I think of what movement we need to imagine.

Cab Drivers in the Crosshairs

In the back of the San Jose airport, 30-year-old Farhan Kahn is handing out samosas to the other cab drivers sitting in lawn chairs waiting for their dispatcher to call. Kahn, cabby by day, world-music sitarist by night, is giving his explanation for the never-ending Bin Laden references drivers hear. "Even in the Bay Area people are ignorant," he says. "They need to watch less movies and more PBS."

He's joking, but the group of South Asian and Ethiopian men don't laugh. Before, racial slurs, and questions like, "What do you think about Saddam?" from passengers were only words, part of the job. Now, after the recent shootings of three Bay Area Sikh cab drivers, many fear those words may portend something much worse.

Three shootings in two months. Davinder Singh, 21, was shot to death by two passengers early Sept. 13 in Redwood City. Gurpreet Singh, 23, was killed on July 2 in Richmond. Another cab driver, Inderjit Singh, 29, was shot in the jaw on July 5th when he responded to a call from his dispatcher.

Most Sikhs share the last name of Singh.

Police in both Richmond and Redwood City determined robbery to be the primary cause of the shootings. But many Sikh cab drivers say the crimes were about racial hatred.

"They just see the turban and the beard and they hate us," says Baljit Singh, an older Sikh man who has driven a cab in the Bay Area for four years.

Sikh Cab drivers responded to the shootings by holding a work slowdown and organizing a memorial procession of hundreds of cabs from San Carlos to San Jose.

Here at San Jose's Norman Y. Mineta airport, the most common feeling among drivers is that they are trapped in a political and economic moment that has put Sikh cabbies in the crosshairs. If asked whether the shootings were hate crimes or just about money, most cab drives say it was both.

Farhan Kahn explains. "Right now the biggest question on peoples minds is, 'Who has cash?' Put that with all the mistaken identity about Sikhs, and people get targeted."

Kavneet Singh echoes the sentiment while speaking about the death of Davinder Singh at a Muslim community center in Santa Clara. "Police say it is not a hate crime, but when the shooter sees the turban and beard it must have made it that much easier to pull the trigger."

Kavneet is a local organizer for Sikh Media Watch and Resource Task Force (SMART) and is addressing an Asian, Latino, and black audience that has convened to talk about civil liberties struggles since 9/11. SMART has taken steps to connect the attacks on Sikh cab drivers to this broader public dialogue. Kavneet, a young healthcare professional who can handle a microphone, is a bridge between the insular community of Sikh drivers and the city officials and community activists. His unexpected transformation into a vocal activist has mirrored the evolution of identity of Sikhs from largely unknown, to targets of racial slurs and violence, to an organizing community.

Since the shootings, Kavneet and SMART have facilitated meetings between local and federal law enforcement officials, elected representatives and cab drivers regarding safety and protections. As a result of these efforts, city officials in Richmond are considering cab drivers' suggestions for installing video cameras and glass partitions in cabs.

Kevneet says San Jose police have even approached him about organizing trainings on cultural sensitivity toward Sikhs for their officers.

At the airport, drivers are starting to get called by the dispatcher. Nobody seems too worried right now about incidents. The danger comes at night, when customers are finished drinking at clubs and bars, and the streets are dark and empty. Getting up, Swara Singh, a driver for three years, tells Kahn to translate his Hindi. "I don't want to drive a cab anymore." His wife and children, he says, worry about him. "But I have to. If I work for someone else they may make me shave my beard, and I won't do that."

Raj Jayadev is the editor of www.siliconvalleydebug.com, the voice of young workers, writers and artists in Silicon Valley.

The Snake-oil Salesmen of Silicon Valley

The second I entered the back room of the downtown San Jose restaurant, I knew what I was getting into. The language was all too familiar.

"The chance of a lifetime."

"Financial freedom."

"A way to make your dreams a reality."

It was a pyramid scheme. In the past month, I've been invited to an "opportunity meeting" by two separate guides -- the guys at the Chinese restaurant, and an Indian tech worker. I'm not surprised, because despite the rhetoric, Silicon Valley at its core has never really been about technology or innovation. It's about finding a way to be your own boss and get rich while doing it.

So in the aftermath of the high-tech meltdown, folks in Silicon Valley -- including the newer immigrant communities -- are going back to basics. That's why my "once in a lifetime opportunity" hit twice in a month.

Pyramid schemes, officially called Multilevel Marketing Plans, are as traditionally American as apple pie. You sell a product whose explosive marketability is just about to emerge. But the real money is made by recruiting others to sell for you. They are your "down-line." They sell for themselves and you, and recruit others to do the same for them.

Every man becomes his own empire-builder. It taps the Bill Gates within us all.

The Federal Trade Commission says most of the schemes are mathematically destined to fail. So why does it seem like everyone I know has an auntie who got at least a car out of it?

At the restaurant, the members of the business enterprise were Chinese and Taiwanese. The products we would hawk were health-related and had names like "Hydro-Glutomax 23." They could do anything. One product restored eyesight to diabetics while removing unsightly moles and cleansing the lungs of smokers.

I don't think many of the dozen or so audience members believed the product presenter. Everyone knew the opportunity lay not in the product's effectiveness, but in whether you could make others believe in it. At one point a presenter disintegrated a penny with acid, then coated his hand with an insect repellent the company was selling and splashed his hand with the acid. "See, the repellant can protect against metal-dissolving acid," he said. "And it's great for the kids when you go camping."

The presenters all claimed that joining the company had changed their lives. Many of their stories were adaptations of the classic immigrant American dream. The common thread -- and what clearly resonated with the audience -- was the idea that the traditional jobs we work cannot bring about the dream. If you want to own a home, retire in comfort and take care of your loved ones, you have to create your own path, outside of the daily grind.

The best presenter was a woman who seemed the least rehearsed. She had no down-lines yet, but burst with hope. She had been a dancer in Asia and was struggling in San Jose, trying to provide for her son while doing temporary jobs. She joined the marketing plan because she was tired of layoffs and not knowing where her next check might come from.

People nodded their heads knowingly.

Our evening ended in celebration -- of the company, our futures and the sense that we were about to join something larger than ourselves.

The following week I a got a call from an Indian tech worker to whom I hadn't spoken in a year. He insisted I meet him to discuss something urgent. The first thing he asked was, "If I said I would buy you any car you want, what would you be driving tomorrow?" He sounded like the presenters at the restaurant.

As the conversation went on, I realized the pitch was honed to my more Indian sensibilities. "I don't know about you, but if I could make it so my parents don't have to work anymore by just 20 minutes a day of selling, I would do it." He peppered the presentation with talk about the Internet and technology, perhaps to make it seem more legitimate than acid-repelling insect cream.

I did not commit to either plan. In each, I'm supposed to come to a follow-up meeting where I can meet the higher-ups on the pyramid. I don't think I'll go, but honestly, I'm tempted.

I used to think pyramid schemes were an old-school white thing, a sneaky way for snake-oil salesmen to shake money out of people like my immigrant parents. But if there's one thing we have learned here, it's that our "post dot-com economy" is deeper than race. It is Darwinian. In Silicon Valley, for immigrants, natives, programmers and restaurant workers, the American dream is not about team. It's about being on top of others.

It's a pyramid, as it has always been.

Raj Jayadev (svdebug@pacificnews.org) is the editor of www.siliconvalleydebug.com, the voice of young workers, writers and artists in Silicon Valley.

DOD Plan Would Restrict Immigrants in Computer Industry

The recent proposal by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to restrict non-citizens from working in some parts of the computer industry sends a loud and unexpected message to the South Asian community: You may be valuable immigrants, but you're still outsiders.

Forget that non-citizen Silicon Valley tech workers rose to leadership positions in more than 40 percent of all start-ups, and in doing so, changed how the world uses technology. Peter Nelson, the Pentagon's deputy director for personnel security, says that the plan, which could go into effect before summer, is to "ensure that any person accessing unclassified but sensitive DOD IT systems be reliable and trustworthy." And that's that.

South Asian tech workers on H1-B visas (temporary visas for highly specialized workers) used to be model American Dreamers -- foreign-born, contributing workers on an upwardly mobile trajectory ending in assimilation. But in post 9-11 America, yesterday's model immigrant is today's security threat.

The DOD security plan would cover a work force that accounts for one-third of all federal civilian employees. Targeted jobs include programmers, code-writers and people handling e-mail systems. In Silicon Valley, the plan could affect thousands, since many high-tech private firms employing foreign nationals are finding new markets in defense contracts.

Most immigrant tech workers are not new to America. Recruited engineers, scientists and students from South Asia were offered easy visas specifically to advance our military technology during the Cold War, to keep ahead of the Soviet threat. Decades later, the high-tech private sector also saw a need for foreign workers to fill jobs and helped create the H1-B visa program in 1990 for its own growth. Subsequently, foreign workers moved on to embrace an American lifestyle and raise American families without becoming U.S. citizens.

An unanticipated side-effect of the influx of thousands of foreign workers to Silicon Valley to create our tech Manifest Destiny is that they profoundly changed our cultural landscape. In the past five years in Silicon Valley, H1-B workers and their families found a way to both integrate into American civic life and retain their cultural integrity. Cricket games sprung up in local parks. Bazaars became the common ground for people to buy fresh vegetables, inspiring Farmer's Markets that attracted a range of shoppers. A new community was defining life in Silicon Valley.

The Silicon Valley South Asian innovators' list looks like a "Who's Who" of technology leaders. Vinod Khosla started Sun Microsystems; Sabeer Bhatia created Hotmail; Chandra Shekar started Exodus, which pioneered the idea of web hosting. All were born in India and came to the United States on visas.

"Without a doubt, we have proven our commitment to this country," says Murali Devankonda, a former H1-B visa holder who recently received his green card after seven years. "Our reliability and trustworthiness should not be questioned."

Without passing a test on U.S. presidential minutiae, South Asian working families became "Silicon Valley citizens" by virtue of their social and economic contributions. But citizenship is not about contributions, as Latinos, many of whom still feel like outsiders after generations in the United States, have long known. It's about bureaucracy, papers and politics.

The defense department announcement could not have come at a worse time for South Asian foreign workers, who make up 40 percent of the estimated 710,000 H1-B workers in the country. They were the first to feel the recession, as the high-tech industry shed some 300,000 jobs nationwide. Since their employers were their immigration sponsors, with loss of employment many were forced to leave the country.

The need for foreign-born, highly skilled workers hasn't gone away, even with the recession. That's because U.S. schools are still not graduating enough high-tech engineers. Money from an H1-B visa fee is currently used for training programs for American workers. President Bush says that the training programs aren't doing what they intended -- preparing American workers to replace non-citizen Indian and Chinese engineers. In his 2003 budget, the visa fee money would be used to speed up the "green card" process.

Immediately following Sept. 11, South Asians faced discrimination and hate crimes as an American public saw turbans and dark skin as terrorist characteristics. In the past few months, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission covering Silicon Valley reports 40 filings of racial discrimination charges in Silicon Valley workplaces. "The amount of charges we have gotten recently is unprecedented -- we hardly ever got charges from these communities, " says EEOC Regional Attorney William Tamayo.

The Silicon Valley South Asian community, comprised heavily of H1-B visa holders, met the racism with patriotism -- organizing American solidarity rallies and collecting funds for the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center.

Now, six months after 9-11, questioning the loyalties of South Asian immigrants has grown from a knee-jerk response by a few reactionaries to the official position of the Pentagon. That means the next "Who's Who of High-Tech" may not come from Silicon Valley or even the United States, but from new high-tech centers being born around the world -- India, Singapore, perhaps even Canada. Places that might respect the contributions of their foreign innovators.

Raj Jayadev, svdebug@pacificnews.org, is the editor of www.siliconvalleydebug.com, the voice of young workers, writers and artists in Silicon Valley.