The Brown Berets and representatives from the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the Mexican American Catholic College sat down with Balcones Heights Mayor Suzanne de Leon Monday to discuss recent allegations that the northwest hamlet’s police force is using racial profiling to run illegal immigrants out of town.
The Berets’ Carlos de Leon (unrelated) said he came out of the meeting hopeful that a solution can be found. The City Attorney and a City clerk also attended the meeting, according to Carlos, and the Mayor promised that if Police Chief Bill Stannard is involved, Balcones Heights would call in an outside source, such as the Texas Rangers, to investigate.
“The Mayor told me that the Police Chief is strictly under her control, and that they will take serious action `if Stannard is found to be a part of the profiling`,” said Carlos. The City Attorney reportedly said that he is going to round up photos of all Balcones Heights officers so that purported victims can identify those officers allegedly involved in racial profiling, and a notice is being issued for complainants to file reports so that the city can look into the incidents.
The alleged victims have so far been reluctant to come forward for fear of reprisal, say their advocates. Due to an unexplained SNAFU, they were a no-show last Friday at a scheduled public meeting.
“It’s difficult to make people lose their fear, but hopefully now that they see city management is going to work with us … maybe that will give them more confidence that they won’t face retaliation,” said the Brown Berets’ de Leon.
Chief Stannard has blamed the suspicion-provoking arrests on a new DPS system for spotting uninsured vehicles, and SA’s high rate of insurance-free drivers. He told the Current last week that his department is absolutely not engaged in racial profiling.
“I can guarantee you that doesn’t happen. My own kids are half-Hispanic. If I knew of an officer doing that, I would terminate him,” he said.
Mayor de Leon’s office could not be reached for comment before press time. Watch Queblog, at sacurrent.com, for udpates.
“Fixing Broken Windows” mantra for the new millenium: Get rid of the “carnival atmosphere” at First Friday, and peace and orderly procession will return to the monthly art walk. Drinking on the street and public sidewalks in the neighborhood was banned in 2004, but according to dissatisfied residents, violent altercations and other antisocial behavior have only increased, and the collective anger is now focused on the street vendors who hawk inexpensive jewelry, clothing, and food from portable tents pitched on private lots lining South Alamo from Probandt to South St. Mary’s.
In addition to securing a $180 annual permit from the city, vendors must have permission from the property owner, and at a public meeting held last Thursday to whip up support for a petition to end First Friday, residents complained that certain owners make their monthly nut by renting space to the street purveyors, and essentially close up shop the rest of the month.
“It’s like a double whammy,” says Southtown Mainstreet Alliance President Steve Yndo. Temporary trinket hawkers and amplified music degrade the atmosphere of what was once a laid-back stroll between art galleries and acoustic music performers, he says, but weekdays and off weekends, “It’s like going to a half-empty mall.”
Local opposition to the event, which draws thousands of people to the historic King William and Lavaca neighborhoods each month, has been brewing for years now, but recent events have brought the conflict to a head. Area houses, most of them historically significant and worth six figures, have been tagged repeatedly, and residents regularly report drunk revelers relieving themselves in their shrubs. During the February 6 event, several neighbors reported a vacant-lot fight, in which a large group of youths appeared to cheer on Fight Club-style matchups.
But the strongly worded petition — “We ... demand that the City of San Antonio take all necessary actions to terminate First Friday ... ” it begins — is raising opposition of its own among area residents and business owners who still value and enjoy the event. Blue Star Director Bill FitzGibbons says it’s not true that all of the young’uns coming to First Friday are only there for the beer and hookups. First Friday is a model for revitalizing an inner-city neighborhood, he says. “To close the whole thing to me is counterproductive and is really going to cause a lot of neighbor-against-neighbor attitudes.”
Yndo says that his organization isn’t in favor of ending the event itself, just the late-night mayhem and vandalism. FitzGibbons suggests that shutting down the street fair at 9 p.m., as Blue Star does, would help, as would hiring a few off-duty officers to staff the event. Which gets to one root of the problem: Since no one entity owns First Friday, there hasn’t been a governing mechanism, or a pot of money, to fund security or amenities such as public restrooms.
The Down With First Friday crew plans to present their petition to Deputy City Manager Pat DiGiovanni early next week. Read more about it online at sacurrent.com.
Blue Star’s FitzGibbons is also making headlines in South Texas for a lawsuit he’s bringing against the City of McAllen (Core Values: Integrity, Accountability, Commitment, according to the website), which installed a highway LED light system last fall that looks suspiciously like FitzGibbons’s I-37 “Light Channels” here in SA. Voices of Art publisher David Freeman, based in McAllen, sent a local cultural poobah to consult with FitzGibbons back in July 2007, as the borderland boomtown was developing a public-art program, and that visit was followed by two more McAllen public-art seekers. Then nothing. Until Freeman spotted McAllen’s installation and called to congratulate a very surprised (read: pissed off) FitzGibbons.
Everyone the Current’s queried so far seems to agree that somehow a glossy Public Art San Antonio catalogue, published for the 2006 Writers and Artists eXchange and featuring Gummi-bright snapshots of the “Light Channels,” made its way back to the McAllen Arts Council, but from there shoulder shrugs, Gipper-esque memory lapses, and finger-pointing ensue. Bottomline denial of the moment: the traffic-light department just ordered up some LED lights and a computer all on its lonesome. McAllen has asked the federal bench to make a preemptive ruling that no intellectual property was stolen, for which debate we bequeath the judge our copy of Cynthia Freeland’s But Is It Art? and the opinion from Art Rogers v. Jeff Koons and the Sonnabend Gallery. Read more about it at southtexasnation.com, which first broke the story, and at sacurrent.com next week.
name recognition, incumbent status, and formidable political connections, Mary Alice Cisneros presents a major challenge to anyone trying to dislodge her from her District 1 Council seat. But no one can accuse Chris Forbrich, Cisneros’s opponent, of lacking competitive fire.
Forbrich recently blasted Cisneros over her role in a possible City sale of Market Square and La Villita to the Cortez family and a proposed renaming of Guenther Street to Mango in honor of resident (unrelated) author Sandra Cisneros. The self-employed computer consultant also filed a complaint against Cisneros with the Texas Ethics Commission February 9, accusing the Cisneros campaign of violating election laws by omitting the standard “paid for by the campaign” disclosure on its website and a January 31 email invitation to a campaign kickoff event.
The TEC threw out the email issue, saying the commission does not regard emails as political advertising. They are, however, investigating Forbrich’s complaint about the Cisneros campaign website. (One oddity with this conflict: The Cisneros campaign email which Forbrich submitted to the TEC did not contain the “paid for” disclosure, but a version of the same email that GTO Advertising sent to the Current this week on Cisneros’s behalf — to counter Forbrich’s contention — did contain one.)
“I feel that it’s very characteristic of her to not follow the law and to not be open and disclose things,” Forbrich says. “It kind of echoes her sentiment toward leadership.”
The Cisneros campaign says the website omission was an innocent oversight that they intend to correct.
“The website is still a work in progress, and we’re going to have a meeting later this week to discuss any changes we need to make,” says Cisneros Campaign Manager Kelton Morgan. “But when people are starving and losing their jobs, if that’s the strongest issue Chris Forbrich can talk about, it says a lot about why his campaign isn’t going anywhere.”
P.S. Cisneros reappointed Current Editor Elaine Wolff’s husband to the District 1 Zoning seat. Gilbert Garcia is covering the District 1 race for the Current. •
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