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The approval of a proposed contract with the City of San Antonio by members of the San Antonio Police Officers Association last week raised the ire and frustration of many of those involved in the local Black Lives Matter movement. They say that, under the current terms, the contract “blocks accountability” for cops who have killed black men.
Click here to download the revised contract, which will go in front of City Council for a final vote of approval on Thursday, Sept. 1.
In response, Mike Lowe and Johnathan-David Jones, two local Black Lives Matter activists, are leading a group Wednesday, Aug. 17 to take three demands to City Council: reject the contract until it allows for accountability, defund the $448 million San Antonio Police Department budget and invest in “black and brown communities,” and fire Officers Robert Encina, John Lee, and any other SAPD officer who has killed San Antonio citizens.
In order to help raise awareness of their issues with the contract, Lowe and Jones led a silent protest Saturday that began in Travis Park and made its way through the streets of downtown San Antonio. About 35 community members were present to show their support.
“We’ve said a lot (over) the past two years since we’ve been out here … and we’ve said enough, so now we’re going to take the time to honor our sisters and brothers who have fallen,” Lowe said, standing in front of the Confederate monument in Travis Park. The park has become a popular destination for local Black Lives Matter demonstrations and protests. “This is a moment of reflection.”
Lowe said that certain stipulations and other elements in Article 28 of the proposed contract, which details officer disciplinary actions, provide certain protections to police officers. He said that they disqualify complaints made against officers, prevent officers from being interrogated immediately, give officers access to information not available to citizens, require the City to pay costs related to police misconduct, prevent release of information about an officer’s previous misconduct, and limit disciplinary consequences.
Lowe and Jones are pushing to defund the SAPD budget, Lowe said, in an effort to see more funding put toward bettering inner city schools, where the students are predominantly individuals of color.
Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) also has been vocal about his concern regarding the fact that no changes were made to any sections in Article 28 during the collective bargaining process between the City and the Police Union. In an interview last week, he told the Rivard Report that he’d like to see more discussion about that.
Councilman Alan Warrick II (D2), whose district is predominantly black, said in a statement that he was “pleased that SAPOA has voted to ratify the negotiated contract.
“Now is the City Council’s time to do the same,” he said. “… This contract ensures we are able to get back to focusing on public safety. This is a fair compromise with shared sacrifice and gains on both sides.”
Lowe wants to see more immediate action.
“The mayor says that passing this contract will give us the opportunity to create a conversation – a conversation ain’t going to save our lives,” Lowe said. “A conversation is not going to keep these cops from (using) excessive force or even from pulling that trigger because they fear for their lives.”
The majority of attendees at Saturday’s silent protest donned black shirts and black duct tape over their mouths, some with phrases such as “Can I live?” “Does my life matter?” and “Black and brown lives matter” written across it.
The goal of walking down the streets in silence, in front of the Alamo, City Hall, and along the River Walk, was to “chill the streets with deft silence, and express our dissension with our bodies, and the information on our signs,” stated the event’s Facebook page. “Many of our brothers and sisters can no longer speak. But that does not mean that their voices can not be heard.”
“These babies, they’re not here to speak. In a sense they’re sacrificial lambs, and all they have is us,” local activist Mary Kate Johnson told the group. “So we get to tell their stories, we get to fight for laws to change, and we get to let San Antonio know that … the truth of the matter is we do have problems here.”
The group was instructed to “not engage anyone” as they walked, despite any possible conflicts that could arise.
“People will see what’s on your shirt, you’re going to get all types of reactions,” Lowe told the group, adding that, if necessary, participants should take out their camera phones and film any altercations.
The walk was mostly peaceful, save for a couple of “All lives matter” screams and an interaction with the Alamo Rangers Security, who wouldn’t allow the protestors, who were standing with their fists in the air to symbolize Black Lives Matter, to stand on the side of a barrier nearest the Alamo. Lowe stood silently as the officers repeatedly asked him to move, and eventually walked away with the rest of the group.
It hasn’t been any easy road, Lowe said, but those involved in the local Black Lives Matter movement shouldn’t get discouraged since city leaders “are hearing us.”
Wednesday’s gathering, which will take place at City Hall chambers at 5 p.m., will be another chance to have City leaders see how serious the group is in its efforts.
“We already know that not only (do) excessive force issues happen under (the) watch of SAPD, but we also know that officer involved shootings happen and the same officers have gotten off,” he said. “Now we want to engage our City leaders, City Council people, and Wednesday is going to be our opportunity to be vocal about that.”
Top image: Black Lives Matter activist hold up their fists in front of the San Antonio Riverwalk. Photo by Scott Ball.