A recent poll shows likely San Antonio voters overwhelmingly support improving disciplinary procedures and use-of-force policy for local police. And several local elected officials and law enforcement leaders appear to be of the same mind.
One of the main barriers to that reform is the police union contract. The collective bargaining agreement between the City and police, expiring September 2021, must be revamped, but the work can’t stop there, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.
“This is not just about policing,” Nirenberg said during one of several live panel discussions with KSAT on Tuesday to review the results of the Bexar Facts/KSAT/Rivard Report poll. “This goes well beyond policing [and] into how we invest in our communities to make sure it doesn’t matter who you are or the color of your skin; we are building healthy communities [for] all.”
The Black Lives Matter and “defund the police” movements are about more than taking money away from police departments, he said, it’s about reallocating funding to address the root causes of crime and poverty.
“We end up having to police the problems that we create when we disinvest in our communities,” Nirenberg said.
City Council will discuss next year’s budget on Friday during a day-long work session. Much of that conversation is expected to be focused on police funding. On Thursday, the mayor will ask his colleagues to support a resolution that commits them to prioritize disciplinary reform in the union’s next contract.
“I see clear consensus among the [City] Council to do the work of reform. … In this case, provisions within the contract stand in the way of that,” he said.
A local group called Fix SAPD is planning to soon launch a signature petition to repeal State laws that allow police unions to negotiate contracts with the City of San Antonio and officers to appeal police chief-issued punishment.
In a phone interview on Sunday, Nirenberg told the Rivard Report that he would sign such a petition.
But that won’t fix systemic racism in U.S. society.
“Systemic racism is based on history,” said Gregory Hudspeth, president of the local NAACP chapter. “It simply becomes the way that business is done.”
The coronavirus pandemic – like most disasters – is disproportionally killing black people, he said. Racism is alive in hospitals, housing, education, police, and court systems.
Aaronetta Pierce, arts advocate and civic leader who chaired the first MLK Jr. Commission when the City held its first MLK march, said education is key to ensuring that the momentum of this moment doesn’t pass.
“When you have spent 400 years telling the world that black people, African Americans, are inferior and not human … it’s going to take didactic work and really intentional effort in order to change [that] perception.”
You do that by telling the truth about history, Pierce said.
For Kimiya Factory, a young Black Lives Matter activist and organizer, the demands of protesters are simple.
“I want … for the cases of Charles Roundtree, Antronie Scott, and Marquise Jones to be reopened and re-investigated,” Factory said, naming three black men who were killed by San Antonio police officers in the past six years.
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales reiterated previous comments made regarding the cases.
“I’ve reviewed those cases and I’ve come to the conclusion … I believe that the officers acted reasonably and their actions were immediately necessary,” Gonzales said. “That’s not to say that I won’t keep an open mind … if there’s any other evidence presented to me that would lead me to believe otherwise.”
His office is working on establishing a citizens advisory committee that would provide policy recommendations and improve training for prosecutors as Gonzales acknowledged that there is “bias in the criminal justice system.”
Factory also rebuked City Council for not moving more quickly to discuss the removal of a statue of Christopher Columbus and renaming of Columbus Park where it is located.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) has requested that discussion, but it’s unclear if it will occur at a committee meeting before Council takes its July break.
Watch the three panels in full via KSAT.