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Justice Charter initiative expected to make May ballot with over 37,000 signatures

Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT4SA, speaking in front of City Hall steps. Tomas is holding a mic and standing next two four filing boxes full of petition signatures, and has a few dozen supporters standing behind her clapping and holding signs supporting the Justice Charter.
Josh Peck
Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT4SA, standing in front of City Hall before submitting petitions for the Justice Charter to the city clerk.

A suite of criminal justice reforms were expected on Tuesday to make their way to the May municipal ballot after organizers led by ACT4SA’s executive director Ananda Tomas submitted over 37,000 signatures for the San Antonio Justice Charter.

If the city clerk verifies at least 20,000 of those signatures — which organizers said they had already done — the charter initiative will be up for a citywide vote in May.

The Justice Charter would decriminalize abortion and low-level weed possession, codify cite-and-release, ban the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants by SAPD, and establish a city Justice Director to oversee criminal justice policy.

Tomas congratulated her fellow organizers for their efforts to get the charter initiative on the ballot but cautioned that there was much more work to be done.

“Just once again want to thank the San Antonio community but let them know that the work is not done,” she said. “We still have hundreds, thousands of doors to knock on, many loved ones to talk to let them know this is on the ballot and why they should vote for this.”

Tomas highlighted how significant the issues on the Justice Charter are in the history of San Antonio.

“This suite of sweeping reforms will be the most groundbreaking criminal justice reform [San Antonio] has seen in decades — possibly ever,” Tomas said.

District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez speaking in front of City Hall in support of the Justice Charter. He's holding a mic and standing in front of boxes of signed petitions, and behind him are supporters wearing Justice Charter and Party for Socialism and Liberation shirts and holding signs supporting the Justice Charter.
Josh Peck
District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez speaking in support of the San Antonio Justice Charter in front of City Hall.

District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez voiced his strong support for the Justice Charter in front of City Hall.

“You know, I’ve been frustrated working within the system and working in City Hall to try to get things like this done, and I think this a demonstration that when the people will it, it will happen,” McKee-Rodriguez said.

Ground Game Texas, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for progressive policies, has been a major partner in the San Antonio Justice Charter effort. Mike Siegel, co-founder and political director of the organization, spoke alongside Tomas and McKee-Rodriguez.

“This is about the people taking leadership,” Siegel said. “This is about direct democracy. These are very popular reforms, but for some reason or another, the city hasn’t taken the full leadership that it could, so the people have taken charge today.”

After the Justice Charter initiative was announced in October, the union that represents San Antonio police officers — the San Antonio Police Officers’ Association — came out against the initiative, saying it “will only hinder the effective policies in place today” and will “take life or death defense measures off the table.”

The two policies that affect SAPD enforcement activities are the ban on no-knock warrants and chokeholds. SAPD current policy already bans both of those activities, though it does allow for chokeholds as a last resort, which the Justice Charter language does not.

Other pieces of the charter initiative are also already policy in San Antonio — District Attorney Joe Gonzales has been a strong proponent of the city’s cite-and-release policy, which includes dismissing or only giving citations for low-level marijuana possession. He has said he would not prosecute for violations of the state’s abortion law.

But organizers have repeated that codifying all of these policies in the city charter would prevent a change in political or SAPD leadership from affecting the policies.

In the 2022 local election, Gonzales’ opponent Marc LaHood stated his opposition to cite-and-release and his willingness to prosecute for violations of the state abortion law and low-level marijuana possession.

“That's one of the things that made this important; no matter who our DA is, our police chief, who’s sitting on city council, we the people are speaking about what we want to see, and we codified it into law so that they cannot undo our will or go against the community’s will in the future,” Tomas said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified the attorney who ran against District Attorney Joe Gonzales in 2022. It was Marc LaHood.

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