Our hearts are breaking and are filled with anger for the workers and families impacted by the shooting in San Jose, CA and for the larger, broader labor movement including our union siblings in the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 265 and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521. Nine people were killed Wednesday morning, May 26, at the VTA light rail yard in San Jose. Many of them were men of color and public transportation workers attending a union meeting.
As sisters in AF3IRM, we know that public transportation has never been a safe space for women, people of color, immigrant and working-class folks, but it is a mode we all must access in order to pay the bills and show up to work on a daily basis. The workers who transport us often come from the same marginalized communities, with drivers taking risks to their physical health and safety to support our collective survival as essential workers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our ATU union family had already lost 152 members and now they are forced to respond to the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the Bay Area.
Collective trauma breaks the spirit, but an organized community makes us strong. We know that to survive and protect each other, power lies in our hands – so we come together as the workers to form the backbone of unions. We know that in a capitalist-imperialist empire, our humanity, worth, and dignity are not seen and that this system will try to destroy what we do to build class solidarity. It is no surprise that the shooting took place during a union meeting.
The shooter himself had demonstrated a history of being racist, anti-woman, and anti-worker. In 2016, the killer was detained after traveling to the Philippines for red flags connected to sex tourism. During this inspection, a black memo book filled with notes about hatred towards his VTA co-workers and books about terrorism and manifestos were found. As we grieve the losses in our locale, we are also left to wonder if he violated our transnational sisters.
What we know for certain is that he battered and raped multiple women. Furthermore, the shooter’s ex-wife filed a restraining order against him in 2009, according to court records for domestic violence. Today’s shooting was not an isolated incident and is a reflection of a culture that encourages male violence against women. Domestic violence is not a one-time individual act. We have seen time and time again how these mass shootings are either murder-suicides at the hands of the shooter, intending to kill their intimate partner, or that the shooter has a history of domestic violence that escalates into mass murder.
Misogyny means that when men are unable to communicate their emotions, their capacity for violence is never prevented but actually condoned. This is compounded by the fact that it is harder to access and pay for mental health services than it is to purchase a gun. Women’s bodies are often the first places to receive the brunt of physical or verbal assault from men’s onslaught of reactionary rage.
However, we urge the public to not fall into the trap of blaming mental illness for this act of extreme violence. The media will, as they do, emphasize the shooter’s Bipolar diagnosis, which furthers the stigma against those living with mental illness and ignores the real cause of this shooting- white male supremacy. One of the greatest predictors for mass shootings is not mental illness- it is domestic violence.
As feminists, we understand that labels do not protect us, but serve as excuses to justify gender-based violence. We understand that we are seen as a threat when we mobilize wherever we go, even and especially in the workplace to form unions. We understand that every time one of our working-class brothers and sisters fall, we must remind ourselves that this capitalistic cutthroat society will extinguish and sacrifice our bodies first. We are not vessels to take out anger on, sacrificial lambs, or shields in a society that seeks to oppress us from womb to tomb.
As sisters in AF3IRM, as working-class people, women of color, and proletarian feminist organizers we know that this mass shooting was an act of violence against women, people of color, and workers. Both employees and those that frequently use forms of public transportation deserve to feel safe—a reality that does not hold true for most of us. So, we commit to unite as a class to build that reality.
Our hearts go out to the victims of the shooting and their families and we stand firmly in solidarity with them. We would like to name the victims of the shooting and recognize them. May they rest in peace and power.
Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63 Adrian Balleza, 29 Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, 35 Paul Delacruz Megia, 42 Alex Ward Fritch, 49 Lars Kepler Lane, 63 Timothy Michael Romo, 49 Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40 Taptejdeep Singh, 36