Critics blast San Jose Cinco de Mayo offramp closures, extra police as racist

A decision by Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol to close multiple highway off-ramps in San Jose during weekend Cinco de Mayo celebrations drew criticism from citizens and state lawmakers who felt the move could only be described as racial profiling. 

"Normal traffic controls are one thing -- but shutting down major highway access on the pretense of fear of multicultural celebrations of Cinco de Mayo is racist targeting, and blatantly unconstitutional," Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, and Assembly member Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, said in a statement on Saturday. "We will not stand by while Caltrans and local agencies infringe on civil rights that we have, as a community, strived for during the past 60 years. We can't allow government agencies to stereotype our community and its residents and violate the `California for All' values that we hold dear." 

In announcing the traffic limits Thursday, Caltrans and the CHP said it was necessary to shut down the ramps for traffic control and public safety during organized Cinco de Mayo march through downtown San Jose a matter of public safety. And San Jose police released a statement saying the enforcement was needed because years ago, Cinco de Mayo celebrations have led to various crimes including vandalism and sideshows. 

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: SJPD adding patrols for Cinco de Mayo; Caltrans closing freeway off ramps

But many others say the closures and added police presence led to cultural and racial bias. Members of the Lowrider community say cruising during a Cinco de Mayo celebrations is a cultural tradition and even when the law allows it, drivers are stopped from enjoying it. 

"Yeah we were here on Friday, and they were just pulling everybody over. I thought the ordinance was passed. It’s legal to cruise, but it seems like it’s kind of a racist thing, I feel," said Paul Rodriguez, of San Jose. 

Justin Triano added: "That just feels very excessive. It doesn’t feel very welcoming. There’s no other cultural event in San Jose that gets this much oversight." 

San Jose City Council members Omar Torres, Sergio Jimenez, Peter Ortiz and Domingo Candelas and the United Lowrider Council of San Jose also chimed in over the weekend, saying that "excessive law enforcement, road closures, and traffic controls put in place only during celebrations of Mexican-American culture can only be described as profiling." 

San Jose police say they’ll start to assess on Monday how much these traffic controls helped, including any arrests and traffic tickets. Cortese added that he also plans to talk with the state’s transportation director about how traffic was handled this weekend.

Bay City News contributed to this report.