After Her Nephew Was Killed By Police, Activism Became Her Form of Grieving | KALW

After Her Nephew Was Killed By Police, Activism Became Her Form of Grieving

Oct 19, 2020

When people are killed by law enforcement, family members don’t get the same resources family members killed by civilians get. That’s what Rosie Chavez learned after her nephew Jacob Dominguez was killed by law enforcement in 2017. So without help from the state, she found her own support network.

Rosie Chavez spent most of her career working in the treatment field for people with addiction. Now she’s a community organizer. She’s busy, and says she’ll sleep once she sees justice. Her nephew, Jacob Dominguez, was shot and killed by San Jose police in 2017. Since then, she’s become a kind of voice for Jacob and the family left behind. 

'What He Meant To Us' 

"They're not going to forget who Jacob Dominguez was."

"I’m going to keep saying my nephew's name, and I’m going to keep him out there, and I’m going to keep telling his story,” Rosie says. "They’re not going to forget who Jacob Dominguez was, and what he meant to us and his kids.” 

Rosie says losing someone killed by law enforcement is a unique kind of pain.

“It’s not been easy, because we’re not considered the victims. They just kind of throw us out there,” Rosie says. 

Rosie comes from a big family, and as a teenager, she helped raise Jacob. 

“Jacob was a good kid. He was my first nephew, of course, I was 13 when my sister had him, so he was like a little brother as well,” Rosie says. “And you know, it was mainly women raising him. It was me, his mom, my mom, his sister.” 

A film reel with stills of Jacob Dominguez and his aunt Rosie Chavez.
Credit Courtesy of Rosie Chavez

Without A Father 

She says everyone would comment on how respectful her nephew was, but it was clear Jacob missed his dad. 

“His dad was in and out of his life, and it wasn’t consistent, like Jacob would’ve wanted,” Rosie says.

Jacob struggled to cope without his father around, and he started getting in trouble with the law. He spent time in juvenile hall, and when he was 19-years-old, he was arrested for armed robbery.

Building A Family 

“It was sad because I was worried about him, how he was going to come back, how he’s going to adjust,” Rosie says. “He did six or seven years [and he] came back. He had his wife, they started making a family.” 

Rosie helped him get a job as a glazier, and his wife was in school to become a nurse. 

"He loved his kids, especially his little one. That little girl had him wrapped around his finger ... She could do no wrong."

“It was one of their goals, and their journeys that they had set for each other, and they supported each other, he was going to be a stay at home daddy. It was a dream for them,” Rosie says.   

They had three kids — two boys and one girl — and Rosie says the girl could do no wrong in Jacob’s eyes. 

“He loved his kids, especially his little,” Rosie says. “That little girl had him wrapped around his finger. She had him. She could do no wrong.” 

But Jacob was also struggling with addiction. He had stayed in a Christian recovery home shortly before his death, and Rosie says he was trying to change his life. She remembers how in their last phone call together, Jacob asked his auntie to pray for him.

A Prayer

“I said, ‘I always do and I always will’,” Rosie remembers.

Then, at 4:30am in September of 2017, she got a call from a family member saying Jacob had been shot and killed by police. It was all over the news. Jacob’s mom was working the graveyard shift at Safeway and Rosie rushed there. 

"She just started screaming."

“She was on her break. I can remember her walking with two things of milk. I told her, ‘Did you see the news?’ And she said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Jacob, they shot him. They killed him.’ She looked in the store and she just like she was halfway in the door and halfway out,” Rosie says. “I remember she looked at her manager, the boss or whoever is in charge. She goes, ‘I got to go. They just killed my son.’ And she just started screaming.”

Soon after that, San Jose Chief of Police Eddie Garcia held a press conference. He listed crimes Dominguez had committed over a nine day period before he was killed. 

“At some point, we needed to make sure this crime spree ended, and unfortunately it ended in a tragic consequence,” Garcia said. 

Garcia said an officer shot Jacob during a traffic stop when he lowered his hands out of view. Police say they thought he was reaching for a weapon. 

“So when it came out in the press conference that he was unarmed, that made us even more upset, because we knew it in our hearts. We knew him,” Rosie says.

Support From Silicon Valley De-Bug 

Jacob’s family held a vigil. At that event, Laurie Valdez with Silicon Valley Debug came up to Rosie, and handed her a card for Silicon Valley De-Bug. It’s an organization that supports families of people involved in the criminal justice system, and families of those killed by police. 

Silicon Valley De-Bug helped Rosie through the whole process of what came next — from filing a civil suit to putting in requests for police records. 

“I think that helped with my grieving as well, with my hurt, my anger, it just turned into motivation to want to make changes, you know,” Rosie says. “I thought about my kids, my grandkids, they're growing up here in this community. Let’s get involved in making changes.”

“I just see how much the system needs to change. There's so much that needs to change. Nobody really understands it like we do,” Rosie says. 

“We’re saying our loved ones names, and telling their story. And it felt a little hopeful that something will change. Maybe it’s now. Unfortunately, George Floyd had to lose his life. And I feel like this was an opportunity to show our community here and the city that it’s happening here, we have our own George Floyds,” she says.

A Way Of Mourning 

Rosie says this advocacy work is her way of mourning for Jacob. But the rest of the family grieves in other ways. Jacob’s grandmother visits his cemetery where he’s buried every single day. His oldest son is 10. He’s quiet and asks if the officer who killed his dad will go to jail. His two other kids don’t know their dad was killed by police. 

“His baby girl really thinks he's going to come home, you know. She wants Santa to bring home. She keeps asking. She just wants to hug her daddy. She misses him,” Rosie says. “And that’s what I’m saying. The trauma it’s done to the family, it’s done a lot.”

Somedays Rosie still expects Jacob to walk through the door. And, she says, it’s exhausting sharing his story over and over. But she wants people to understand who he was. She is grateful that before he was killed, Jacob was interviewed for a documentary called ‘Making of a Gangster’ about why people join gangs. 

More Than The Image Police Put Out There

“I didn't know how to act, I just kind of took it out, I went to the streets. I went to the streets. I looked for love, and found love out there, and that's when everything went downhill real fast for me,” Jacob says in the documentary. 

“It really humanized who Jacob was, and after the cops had killed him, it was the only thing we had to actually prove he wasn’t the person they said he was. He wasn’t the monster they had put out there,” Rosie says. 

"I tell everyone, As long as I have breath, I won't stop fighting. I won't stop fighting."

One of Silicon Valley De-Bug’s demands is to shift funds away from law enforcement. And towards immediate and long term support for people and families who have been affected by police violence. Now Rosie is pushing for that on behalf of families like hers. 

“I tell myself I’m going to do this as long as I can. I like what I do. I like helping the people I help. A lot of times, I feel like I see a lot of little Jacobs in a lot of the people I help, you know,” Rosie says. “I tell everyone, As long as I have breath, I won’t stop fighting. I won’t stop fighting.”