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The latest Bexar Facts/KSAT/Rivard Report poll shows broad support for improving police accountability, with most respondents saying they believe Black Lives Matter protesters are peacefully and lawfully speaking out against police violence and bias. At the same time, most approved of the job local police were doing.

While there is still a large divide on several issues based on political affiliation and racial demographics, including the perception of police bias towards black people, the poll’s respondents “overwhelmingly support every single [police] reform proposal that we put in front of them in ways that are stunningly bipartisan in most cases,” said pollster David Metz.

“The overall polls [here] are not that different from what the national polls are showing,” said Metz of the Bexar Facts/KSAT/Rivard Report poll. “[Generally] people still believe that most police officers are good and trustworthy, but at the same time, they believe that there are systemic problems that need to be changed.”

The nonpartisan poll was conducted online and via telephone June 10-14 and surveyed 616 registered voters who live in Bexar County. Results and methodology are available online at bexarfacts.org.

Sixty-eight percent agreed that the police union has been a barrier to holding local police officers accountable for misconduct, 97 percent want police officers to undergo regular de-escalation training to help them prevent violent conflicts, and 96 percent want officers’ body cams to be on at all times when interacting with the public. At the same time, 82 percent said they felt safer when they see police officers in their neighborhood, and 77 percent approved of the job San Antonio Police Chief William McManus was doing.

While 77 percent believed local protests against police brutality have been peaceful and lawful, 70 percent believe “out-of-state extremists” have been influencing local protests.

Protesters have peacefully taken to San Antonio’s streets every day since May 30, five days after George Floyd died while in police custody. Video showed a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes as he became unresponsive.

During the initial local protest, more than 5,000 demonstrators participated in a peaceful rally and march downtown, but the gathering devolved into chaos when a smaller group broke windows and looted stores. Police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd. During other encounters, police used rubber and wooden projectiles on protesters, and local officials imposed a downtown curfew.

Less than half of those surveyed supported the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters, but 69 percent supported imposing curfews. Seventy-three percent supported the use of helicopters to monitor protests.

“As soon as we cross a line into anything that is going to involve use of violence … or physical discomfort against protesters, there’s a pretty broad consensus against its use,” Metz said.

However, only 34 percent characterized violence by police against protesters as an “extremely” or “very serious” problem.

There were clearer gaps between Democrats and Republicans, who were more likely to support the use of force against demonstrators who become violent. That sentiment, however, largely did not extend to the use of chokeholds against violent protesters. Only 37 percent of Republicans agreed with such tactics.

While 80 percent of black respondents opposed the use of tear gas, only 43 percent of white respondents did. Latinos were divided on the issue, with 53 percent against its use and 41 percent approving.

San Antonio is 64 percent Hispanic or Latino, 25 percent white, 7 percent black, and 3 percent Asian, with the remainder made up of other racial groups, according to 2010 census results.

The data shows that on many issues, Latinos and black people align. The Brown Berets de San Anto and other Hispanic and Latino groups helped organize the enormous rally and march on May 30. But that doesn’t mean all people of color see things the same way.

“We overuse the words ‘minority’ and ‘people of color’ and we bunch them all up into one,” said Demonte Alexander, director of External Affairs and Special Projects for Bexar Facts. “Some of this data shows that there are some stark differences between attitudes in the community towards different topics.”

Latino and black residents, especially those with lower incomes, are underrepresented in elections and in this poll, because registered voters tend to have higher incomes, Metz said. For example, 37 people (6 percent) who identified themselves as black or African American responded to the poll, compared to 283 Latino or Hispanic people (46 percent) and 234 who described themselves as white (38 percent).

But the sentiments expressed in the local poll are “totally consistent in what we see in larger polls of African Americans,” Metz said. Their concerns about bias and police brutality is “a trend that we’re seeing all over the place right now.”

While police shootings of unarmed black men in San Antonio have not drawn the widespread attention of those in other U.S. cities, three fatal incidents reverberate: Marquise Jones in 2014Antronie Scott in 2016, and Charles “Chop” Roundtree in 2018.

When asked if “too many local police officers are biased against African Americans,” answers varied among white, black, and Latino respondents but Latinos were more closely aligned with whites.

Sixty-five percent of black people surveyed thought local cops are biased against them while 32 percent of white people and 36 percent of Latinos agreed. The question indicated a split along party lines: only 14 percent of Republicans believed such a bias exists.

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement that “local police are fair and impartial when enforcing the law,” a similar breakdown emerges: 54 percent of black respondents, 69 percent of white respondents, and 71 percent of Latinos agreed.

Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of all respondents agreed that local police are “better trained and equipped to handle protests peacefully than officers in Minneapolis.”

“Even Republicans have gotten the message that action is required and action is required quickly,” Metz said of police reform.

“Now the question is: how durable this will be? We have seen that in the past after other police shootings that these issues arise and then recede a little bit. Frankly, this has happened after a range of national tragedies.”

“[Nationally] the change in support has been dramatic,” said Metz, president and partner of California-based FM3 Research. “It’s one of the few times in modern history … that we’ve seen policy issues shift as quickly as we have on a lot of these police reform items.”

The Bexar Facts/KSAT/Rivard Report poll focuses on surveying registered voters because elections are what turns the tides towards progress on issues of police reform and racial equality, Alexander said.

Showing up to public meetings, protests, and calling your representative are important means of civic engagement, he said, but lasting change is typically created by voters.

“The best way you can do that is go to the ballot box,” he said.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org