San Antonio supporters and organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement met Sunday afternoon to discuss getting to the bottom of what they consider to be the root of local police brutality: “the corrupt police association contract.”

“This is a mafia contract, as good as a mob contract, to allow [SAPD officers] to beat up on anyone who’s ever wanted justice,” said Mario Marcel Salas, former city councilman and University of Texas at San Antonio professor. Salas organized the event, which was held at the Cesar E. Chavez Service Center on East Commerce Street and hosted more than 50 attendees.

“People are going to try to say we’re anti-police,” Salas added. “We are not anti-police. We are pro-police, but we’re anti-police-doing-things-they-shouldn’t-be-doing.”

The problem with the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) contract is that it has allowed more than two-thirds of fired officers to be reinstated, said Ojiyoma Martin, 33, founder of FixSAPD, one of the several young local organizers who attended the meeting. Others in attendance included Jourdyn Parks, Pharaoh Clark, and Roger Mortensen, representing the Reliable Revolutionaries

The next SAPOA contract is set to be negotiated next year.

Martin quoted a 2017 Washington Post investigative series titled Fired/Rehired that identified San Antonio as the No. 1 city of the nation’s 55 largest cities for reinstating officers, with 70 percent of all fired officers winning their jobs back.

In each instance, arbitrators overruled SAPD Police Chief William McManus and handed down lighter punishments that kept the officers on the force.

“The conversation I want to have isn’t about getting rid of police – that is not what I’m here to talk about,” Martin said. “I want to talk about getting rid of barriers to upholding decisions made by the chief of police about running his current police department. The barriers that shield bad police officers, placing them above the law and creating inequality of justice.”

These barriers are within the union contract and in Chapters 143 and 174 of Texas’ Local Government Code, Martin said. These laws hinder San Antonians’ ability to secure lasting police reform, she added.

Chapter 143 “provides excessive due process to police officers before they can be fired,” and Chapter 174 “gives officers an arbitration process that sets police departments up to get what they want from the city before the negotiations begin,” the FixSAPD website states. 

Ernest J. Martinez, chairman of the Cesar E. Chavez Legacy & Educational Foundation (CECLEF), said while McManus has done his job and fired bad officers on every proper occasion, SAPOA makes sure the officer comes back on the force.

“We are the seventh-largest city in the nation,” Martinez said. “We need to petition for reform, we need to vote and hold our City Hall accountable.”

Martinez said police departments in other cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and others copy the San Antonio union’s contract because it’s so airtight in favor of cops.

Calling for unity among the attendees to fight the contract and chapters 143 and 174, Ananda Tomas and Gylon Jackson said they want to come before the City Council with a solid, unified call to action. Tomas invited anyone interested in helping create the call to action to attend a 6 p.m. June 24 meeting at the Radius Center, 106 Auditorium Circle #120. 

“I’ve been to several of these meetings and not seen them bear fruit,” Jackson said. “We must and we will find a way to come together.”

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) warned the meeting attendees that getting the contract changed will be difficult and will take funding. He encouraged the attendees to start fundraising now.

“Unfortunately, freedom isn’t free,” Calvert said, noting that the union will fight back and it will have money and resources on its side.

Other speakers at the three-and-a-half hour meeting included T.C. Calvert Sr. and family members of those killed by San Antonio police officers: Debbie Bush, the aunt of Marquise Jones; Bernice Roundtree, Charles Roundtree’s aunt and adoptive mother; and the Rev. Noble Cooper and wife Jennifer, the parents of Norman Cooper. The family members shared their personal testimonies outlining why SAPD needs reform.

Salas said the group likely will call another meeting in the next week or two, with the date and place to be determined.

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed a restaurant not affiliated with the upcoming meeting. The story has been updated.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.