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Win or lose come the close of the May 1 city elections, the young activists who formed Fix SAPD in the wake of local Black Lives Matter protests, who gathered thousands of signatures of registered voters amid a pandemic and succeeded in placing Proposition B on the ballot, have accomplished something important.

They have caused many in San Antonio to think long and hard about the relationship between the police and the community, particularly communities of color, and to acknowledge that the process for disciplining bad cops is broken. Even white suburban voters in some instances marched last summer to protest police mistreatment of Black Americans.

How many more videos do we need to watch of police brutalizing citizens of color? Here is the disturbing 2013 video of San Antonio police arresting and ultimately killing Jesse Aguirre after he left the scene of a vehicle accident and was reported walking along the concrete median divider amid high-speed traffic on U.S. Highway 90. The first words shouted by a female police officer arriving at the scene as she exited her vehicle and pointed her firearm directly at Aguirre: “Come here, come here, I’ll shoot you, motherf—–!”

The San Antonio Express-News published an article Wednesday on the decision by the U.S. 5th Court of Appeals to overturn a district court judge’s ruling that the eight officers who responded to the call were entitled to qualified immunity in this death-in-custody case.

The case will be remanded for trial at the local district court within the next year, the family’s attorney Edward Pina said during a press conference on Wednesday.

The officers can be seen on the 14-minute video either participating in subduing Aguirre or hanging around the scene and periodically turning around to see if they were being watched. The family’s lawsuit was dismissed, so what punishment, if any, was meted out to the responsible officers will be the subject of a follow-up report.

A video still of dashcam footage shows a San Antonio Police Department officer kneeling on the neck of Jesse Agurirre. Credit: Courtesy / Public Record

Even now, months into the current collective bargaining talks, the negotiating team for the City of San Antonio is holding firm to its position that the San Antonio Police Officers Association must make significant concessions on disciplinary reforms in order to reduce use-of-force incidents and win a new multiyear contract.

The very fact San Antonio is voting on whether to strip the police union of its collective bargaining power should be taken by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, City Council, and police union officials as a clear signal that the time for change has come.

The proposition language itself will befuddle voters, a legal stew of gobbledygook bound to confuse even the most engaged citizens. Read Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick’s Proposition B explainer here to learn more about what its passage would mean.

A Bexar Facts poll conducted in late March in partnership with the San Antonio Report and KSAT-TV showed that registered voters were divided among those who oppose Prop B, those who support Prop B, and those who remained undecided. No credible late-hour polling has surfaced to indicate which way the undecided are swinging. Longtime observers of city and police politics have predicted both passage and defeat of the proposition.

The difference in opinion is evident among community leaders, too.

Nirenberg hasn’t publicly take a position on Proposition B, although some in the movement take his neutrality as a lack of support. His relationship with the police union has been an adversarial one since he held the District 8 council seat, when he was one of only two council members to vote against the 2016 agreement reached when Mayor Ivy Taylor held the office. So it was news in late March this year when Nirenberg went to police union headquarters for a get-acquainted meeting with SAPOA President Danny Diaz.

Former Mayor Julián Castro, on the other hand, has publicly rallied in support of Proposition B, doing so first via a video posted on Twitter on April 12. “You and your family deserve accountability when bad officers cross the line,” Castro said on Twitter, urging voters to support Fix SAPD.

“I am voting no on Proposition B because it’s not the right way to solve the issues we are facing,” former Mayor Henry Cisneros told me Wednesday. ” We do have issues in San Antonio, but they will not be addressed by retracting something as broad as collective bargaining.”

Cisneros, of course, served as mayor in 1988 when the police department first won the wage and benefit increases that have grown steadily since that date, eventually convincing Castro when he was mayor in 2013 to form a task force to study police and firefighter compensation here and in other cities as the City struggled with runaway health care costs.

Police discipline reform was on the City’s negotiating agenda back then, but no progress was made, and the focus stayed on financial issues. A new contract was finally approved in 2016.

“The police chief himself is not in favor of Proposition B, and maintaining good morale in the department and a positive relationship between police and the community is very important,” Cisneros added. “I’ve taken many a hit for what we did in 1988 with the police department, but we had to create a better police department and we accomplished that. So to remove collective bargaining now, to me, would be dangerous.”

Ultimately, Cisneros said, “The community must decide the matter.”

More than 101,000 people voted early in this election, a record that eclipsed the previous mark when more than 77,500 voted early in May 2017. Let’s see if the turnout on Saturday shows continued voter engagement.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.