Calling to mind the activism of Martin Luther King, Jr. in advance of the Monday holiday honoring his memory, representatives of the San Antonio Coalition for Police Accountability (SACPA) requested an apology from John “Danny” Diaz, president-elect of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, for remarks he made during a Jan. 4 media announcement that they viewed as misinformation and an inflammatory incitement of violence.
SACPA organized following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis to bring together advocacy groups pushing for reform in how the San Antonio Police Department disciplines officers involved in police shootings and violence. According to its Fix SAPD mission statement, the group aims to “[get] rid of the barriers … that shield problematic police officers, placing them above the law and creating inequality of justice.”
During the Jan. 4 announcement, Diaz accused petitioners affiliated with Fix SAPD, an organization that has mounted a petition drive to repeal the local implementation of state laws related to police union operations, of being “out-of-state political operatives [who] are funded by dark money special interest groups.”
Diaz also stated that the police union has received reports of petitioners claiming to be representatives of the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) and becoming “physically aggressive” while seeking signatures.
SACPA Chair Mario Salas, a longtime activist and former city councilman, invited members of the media to law offices in the Ariel House on Datapoint Drive on Saturday morning to deny Diaz’s claims, describing them as “hogwash,” “nonsense,” and “erroneous.”
Joined by representatives of local police reform activist group Reliable Revolutionaries, national advocacy group All of Us or None, and attorney Edward Peña, Salas issued the apology request, saying that Diaz’s words “are reminiscent of [Ku Klux] Klan misinformation.”
Diaz’s assertions, which Salas described as “a series of falsehoods,” have resulted in harassment and threats of violence toward several petitioners, according to Pharaoh Clark and Jolene “Josey” Garcia of Reliable Revolutionaries.
During the announcement, Salas displayed photographic evidence of alleged harassment by members of the police force and said disciplinary action would be pursued with the SAPD. Garcia, an Air Force veteran, said her vehicle windows had been smashed as a result of her petitioning. Clark, who will be on the May ballot as a candidate for City Council District 2, alleged he had been followed home from his petitioning activities by police and described alleged harassment of other petitioners, several of whom have quit their volunteer positions due to fear for their well-being, he said.
In further stating that the Fix SAPD petition is an effort “to divide our city,” as Diaz claimed Jan. 4, Salas said that “nothing divides our community more than a collective bargaining agreement” that allows police officers who are “repeat offenders” to maintain their positions on the force or be rehired after disciplinary action resulting in termination.
Peña referred specifically to Officer John Lee, who in 2016 was disciplined for the fatal shooting of unarmed Antronie Scott during an arrest attempt, but was ultimately retained as an SAPD officer.
As previously reported, the Fix SAPD petitions aim for a public vote in May on repealing Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code, with a further drive to repeal Chapter 143 at a later date. Chapter 174 establishes collective bargaining for the police and firefighter associations, and Chapter 143 governs rules for the removal or suspension of officers.
On Jan. 8, Fix SAPD delivered 26,000 signatures to City Hall, more than the 20,000 valid signatures required to get their concerns on the May ballot. SACPA representatives said 80,000 verified signatures would be required to put the repeal of Chapter 143 up for a vote, which will require further effort beyond the upcoming election.
In a statement released following the SACPA announcement, Diaz called assertions made by Salas “baseless attacks,” and maintained that “a great number” of petition signatures “were gathered under false pretenses.”
Diaz also said, “despite the ridiculous allegations and unhinged attacks by Salas, [the police union] remains committed to the truth … and if reforms of any kind are necessary, they will be discussed and developed – as they always have been – with the City and [the police union] sitting at the bargaining table and negotiating in good faith.”
At the Jan. 4 media announcement, Diaz was joined by SAPD Police Chief William McManus, who described the arrival of the new president-elect as “a breath of fresh air.” McManus said he supports collective bargaining to resolve police disciplinary issues.
Chapter 143 states in plain language that “a municipality may hold an election to adopt or repeal this chapter,” and in Section 004(e) further states, “if the governing body of a municipality that has operated under this chapter for at least one year receives a petition requesting an election to repeal this chapter that is signed by at least 10 percent of the qualified voters of the municipality, the governing body shall order an election submitting to the voters the question on whether this chapter should be repealed. If a majority of the qualified voters vote to repeal this chapter, this chapter is void in that municipality.”
In his statement, Diaz reiterated that “[Fix SAPD] is funded by dark money special interests” that have not been publicly disclosed, while Salas at the Saturday press conference asserted that what he termed “corrupt dark-blue money” from the police union contributed to the campaign accounts of City Council members and candidates “to keep this contract in effect, and … to keep political candidates quiet.”
Garcia closed her statement Saturday with an appeal to San Antonio voters. “We ask you, please join us. Join us in this fight for democracy. Join us in this fight for justice. Join us in this fight for doing what’s right.”
She asked Diaz to sit down with SACPA and claimed that among signees of the SACPA petition are SAPD officers.
“You have officers who are signing a petition for change. Come to the table with us. You have the chance to be on the right side of history. And we’re not going away,” Garcia said.