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Prop B Falls Short After Silence From Mayor’s Office Despite Wide Coalition Of Support

Dominic Anthony Walsh
Texas Public Radio
A sign at the pro-Prop B watch party on Election Night.

In a surprisingly close election Saturday, a proposal to repeal the San Antonio Police Officers Association’s right to collective bargaining fell short by a couple percentage points. Also somewhat surprising: the wide coalition of support for the initiative, from moderate reformists to radical abolitionists. Despite the defeat, supporters feel emboldened.

“The message is still the same,” said Abram Emerson Jr. “(We) want police to be held accountable.”

Emerson Jr. attended a pro-Prop B watch party at the Friendly Spot in Southtown. His family moved to San Antonio in the late ’70s, and over the years, he’s watched as officers accused of misconduct have been rehired at one of the highest known rates in the country. More than 60% of fired officers have been rehired over the past decade, due to a contractual arbitration process that often overturns disciplinary decisions.

“So, when you have when you take that responsibility, and you put that badge on, and you have that trust in the public to do your job and you violate that — in my opinion, I'm sorry, you can't be doing this anymore,” he said.

A television reporter interviews San Antonio congressman Joaquin Castro during Saturday night's Proposition B watch party.
Dominic Anthony Walsh
Texas Public Radio
A television reporter interviews San Antonio congressman Joaquin Castro during Saturday night's Proposition B watch party.

Late in the night, when it was clear that Prop B had fallen short, Fix SAPD deputy director Ananda Tomas spoke to the crowd.

“We’re going to keep this pressure up, and we’re going to get the type of policing and police reform in our community that we deserve,” she yelled over applause and cheering.

Tomas says Fix SAPD — the architect of Prop B — is now eying the November ballot as a possible opportunity to repeal what’s known as Chapter 143.

“(Chapter 143) sets limits on how and when you can investigate an officer for misconduct, restricts access to disciplinary records, is really what's considered a huge shield to accountability,” she said.

And that’s what Fix SAPD is focused on — accountability through discipline reform, not defunding the police department. Prop B would not have affected funding, and Fix SAPD says it will continue to push for more accountability.

But the coalition of support for Prop B included people who want to go further.

Marlon Davis is an organizer with Democratic Socialists of America, Black Futures Collective and the Defund SAPD Coalition. He wants to see the department abolished, funds reallocated towards community needs and a new vision of public safety created.

“From the outset, you see that this is really about upholding and affirming a system — the legitimacy of this policing system,” he said. “Whereas abolition within itself is like a question or an invitation to dream outside of that, and to create something that's wider and comprehensive.”

So, why did he support Prop B, which is more of a strategic reform than a sweeping reimagination?

“If this is the conversation, as of right now, this is the opportunity in front of us, you're going to fight for that, or you're going to rally behind it the best that you can,” he said. “But yes, with the understanding that you're going to push beyond this, and then this is ultimately just a means to an end of creating better conditions for yourself or for your own ultimate goal.”

He points to Austin, where city council slashed the department’s funding last year, as an example of next steps. But again, Prop B would not have done that, although the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) raised the defund spectre throughout their campaign, in addition to concerns about officer recruitment and retention.

Kimiya Factory chats with former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro.
Dominic Anthony Walsh
Texas Public Radio
Kimiya Factory chats with former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro.

Kimiya Factory is executive director of Black Freedom Factory, part of the coalition in favor of Prop B, which, again, would not have affected funding for police.

“So I know for a fact that there was a lot of misinformation during this campaign — on SAPOA’s part — accusations of defunding, when in fact, Proposition B is a completely different conversation,” she said.

But unlike her coalition partners with Fix SAPD, she talks openly about potentially defunding the police. She wants to see “the embracing of a conversation and a word that terrifies conservatives, right, that terrifies certain audiences.”

“An honest conversation about defunding and about accountability means the reallocation of that — where do our tax dollars go? And that's a conversation that every citizen is entitled to.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg spoke with TPR about the police contract and funding in late 2020, before Prop B made it to the ballot.

“So I do not support defunding the police,” he said. “We won’t defund the police. That’s never been on the table. We do want to have the best police department that we possibly can have.”

He said the disciplinary process needs to be improved.

“We can have all the best policies in the world, but if we don’t have the proper structures of governance in place, particularly as it relates to allowing the chief — or providing the chief the authority to weed out officers who are found of misconduct, then it does no good,” he said.

But on Prop B, Nirenberg, citing the ongoing collective bargaining negotiations with the police union, refused to express support for or against the measure. He won a landslide victory in the mayor’s race, and Prop B supporters feel that his endorsement could have pushed the measure over the finish line.

Kimiya Factory pointed to the speech Nirenberg gave to a Black Lives Matter rally last summer, when he told the crowd to hold him accountable, saying, “We’re going to make changes together.”

“Which is why it's kind of hard for me to believe — it's actually, in fact, really hard for me to believe — that he didn't endorse this proposition,” Factory said. “Because this proposition is about accountability.”

“Well look, of course I wish every elected official in the city had come out in support of it,” said Former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro. He endorsed Prop B and attended the watch party in Southtown. He said the narrow loss is meaningful.

“Almost half the city believed we should go in this direction,” he said. “That’s a strong message that we need more accountability.”

In a written statement, Mayor Nirenberg said, “It’s clear that San Antonio residents want reforms,” and that the city’s main goal is to make sure the chief of police can more easily fire officers and keep them off the force. But the success or failure of that goal depends on the outcome of the ongoing collective bargaining between the city and the union — the very same hard-to-predict process that Prop B would have gotten rid of.

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Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony