A small group of San Antonians carried a cardboard coffin to SAPD headquarters this week, symbolizing victims of police brutality. Photo by Alexa Garcia-Ditta
Community organizers, advocates, students, and concerned San Antonians came together at three different gatherings this week to honor victims of police brutality nationwide like Michael Brown of Ferguson, Miss., and Trayvon Martin of Florida, and to highlight similar officer-involved fatalities and abuse that have happened in San Antonio.
According to a months-long investigation by local television station KENS 5, released in July, the San Antonio Police Department “had more fatal officer-involved shootings based on population in the past decade than any other department in Texas.” The analysis looked at San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and the broader Harris County, Austin, and Bexar, Travis, Dallas and Tarrant counties’ departments.
The problem isn’t unique to cities like Ferguson, activists say.
“We are every bit as enraged as the people feel in Ferguson,” said Margarita McAuliffe of Mothers Act, an organization focused on criminal-justice reform and police brutality. “Some people believe that entire communities are satisfied because the leaders of some community organizations can be silenced when the chief of police assures them that the most recent act of police brutality was carried out appropriately, but they are wrong.”
McAuliffe, who helped organize one of three separate gatherings that took place within a 24-hour window, has been working in the criminal-justice arena for more than five years. She and other activists called attention throughout the week to local stories like those of Marquise Jones, who was fatally shot by an off-duty officer earlier this year, and Thomas Mathieu, who was beaten by police while experiencing diabetic shock in his car, and Cameron Redus, a University of Incarnate Word student who was killed near his off-campus apartment by an off-duty university police officer. Most recently, an African-American San Antonian was killed in police custody after being Tasered, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
“We’re not against (police officers’) authority, we’re against their abuse of authority,” said Jonathan Guajardo, UIW graduate student and student-government president. On Wednesday afternoon, 20 or so UIW students held “Justice for Cameron” signs along Broadway Street.
On Tuesday evening, a smaller group of San Antonians gathered downtown. After a few people spoke, activists carried a cardboard coffin 10 minutes down the road to San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters, where they staged a “die-in,” falling to the ground and tracing one another’s bodies with chalk to symbolize victims.
“We’re tired of living in fear,” said one attendee.
The recent brutality in Ferguson has catalyzed Americans nationwide and has shone a light on similar instances in other cities. McAuliffe, who is working to organize a larger public rally on Saturday, Sept. 6, says the next step for concerned San Antonians is to coordinate their efforts and present concerns to the city. Activists are developing at least two petitions to present to city officials.
When asked how the SAPD is responding to overall citizen concern about recent local incidents, as well as Ferguson, public information officer Sgt. Javier Salazar wrote: “The cases involving Leroy Love and Marquise Jones are currently under investigation. In the case of Thomas Mathieu, no disciplinary action.” Salazar didn’t immediately respond to the Current’s followup questions.
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