Before City Council’s Thursday vote on the proposed contract with the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA), dozens of local #BlackLivesMatter activists, educators, former City leaders, and other engaged community members gathered in City Council chambers Wednesday to urge their representatives to vote “no” on a contract that they say lacks accountability measures for police officers.
Their pleas, some carefully prepared and including quotes by Martin Luther King Jr., were heard well into the night as dozens more were signed up to speak on other topics. Each person signed up to speak on the police union contract was concerned that the language dealing with disciplinary actions for officers allows cops to live “above the law” and escape adequate punishment as well permanent marks on their records for bad behavior.
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“If this contract passes it will give a blank check to bad law enforcement officers to continue to terrorize our neighborhoods and streets with no accountability,” said Ananda Tomas from the Texas Organizing Project. “We fund SAPD to protect us, not to have the ability to abuse us and get away with it.”
There were no voices in favor of the contract on Wednesday night. If police union representatives were there, they did not make their presence known or speak up to balance out the nearly 40 voices who spoke against it.
The last speaker of the night, Michael Murphy, refused to conclude his speech and leave the podium even after Mayor Ivy Taylor adjourned the meeting when his allotted two minutes were up.
“You talk about respect, (then) you need to respect this chamber,” Taylor said before getting out of her seat and exiting the room. Councilmen Rey Saldaña (D4), Alan Warrick (D2), Roberto Treviño (D1), Joe Krier (D9), and Ron Nirenberg (D8) remained seated as Murphy finished his speech.
Like Murphy, several other speakers pointed out that San Antonio’s numbers regarding the deaths of black people caused by police are higher than many would expect. Voting “yes” on the contract, they said, would only lead to more of these cases further down the line, and give the black community more of a reason to fear the San Antonio Police Department.
“This contract will protect these individuals and continue to eradicate the trust our citizens have in our law enforcement,” said local activist Denise Hernandez.
After more than two years of on-again, off-again negotiations with the City, the police union voted in favor of the contract nearly three weeks ago. Saldaña, who has said he will vote against the contract, believes the mayor is jumping too quickly at the opportunity to close the deal instead of considering the implications the contract could have on the community. Nirenberg also said that he will vote against it. Positions of other council members remain unknown, but Treviño recently said that he is still undecided.
(Read more: Castros Lead Call to Reject Police Contract)
Council members do not typically speak or talk back to citizens during Citizens to be Heard sessions but Mayor Ivy Taylor recently wrote a commentary published by the Rivard Report which explains why she’s advocating for approval of the contract.
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“I know and have listened to the concerns that this contract does not satisfy every demand made by officers, taxpayers, or activists. I agree,” Taylor stated. “This mediated settlement truly is a negotiated contract with all sides making concessions. However, at times like these, when more and more news programs nationwide begin with officer-involved shootings, we have to be willing to leave our entrenched positions and move forward. If not, we risk irreparable damage to the ties that bind us together as one San Antonio.”
The mayor has formed a committee that will look into police-community relations.
“I think there are solutions out there and I want us to move past rhetoric and political grandstanding and get to work. I believe our San Antonio police officers share this goal and are ready to assist,” she stated.
(Read More: Mayor Taylor: New Contract Moves City Forward)
Local activist Johnathan-David Jones, who has been leading the local #BlackLivesMatter movement alongside fellow activist and SATX-4 organizer Mike Lowe, said he’s confident that their efforts Wednesday changed some Council members’ minds.
“Voting this contract down is not playing politics. Saying ‘black lives matter’ is not political grandstanding,” Lowe told Council during his speech. “So tomorrow, the city, the world, and this nation will be watching.”
Top image: Activist Johnathan-David Jones (left) chants as Debbie Bush and Mike Lowe (right) embrace. Photo by Scott Ball.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard Report archive.