Long Fight Ahead: Members of the Coalition for Police Accountability Find Common Ground But No Quick Answers

click to enlarge MICHELLE DEL REY
Michelle Del Rey
Former city councilman Mario Salas launched the San Antonio Coalition for Police Accountability this summer with one goal in mind: to make Alamo City safer for its Black residents.

The coalition is the first of its kind in the city. Born in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, it consists of local Black leaders and activist organizations focused on taking a stand against police violence against people of color.

Though the group has made strides by engaging in community and political events, it’s clear there’s much more to do. Two Sundays ago, roughly a dozen members, mostly Black, met inside a Northeast San Antonio community center to work through how they plan to reach their goal.

The ideas circulated during the discussion included creating a legal defense fund, planning additional protests and gathering signatures for a petition to carve out some of the San Antonio Police Department’s funding for social programs.

One suggestion came from businessman Christopher Herring, 51, executive director of Global Chamber San Antonio, who asked the group to consider holding events in tourism hotspots to send a clear message to city leaders.
“I think it’s important for people who are coming to San Antonio to know our city is either safe for Black folks or it’s not,” he said.

Meetings and Vigil

Rethinking police funding — or “defunding the police,” as it’s been sloganized — has been at the forefront of the coalition’s agenda. Last week, leaders held a press conference downtown to condemn the city’s plan to increase SAPD spending by $8 million. The group dismissed the proposed increase as a “complete disregard for our lives and our tax dollars” after spending weeks advocating for cuts to the budget.

The prior Saturday, the group also organized a vigil at La Villita Historic Arts Village to honor six people of color killed by San Antonio police. The event drew more than 100 people and garnered local media attention. Deborah Bush, aunt of Marquise Jones, one of the men remembered that night, spoke at the gathering.

“For you young people to come in now, recognizing the families, showing us love, putting our stories out there, all of us are so grateful,” she said, expressing her gratitude at the Sunday meeting.

Understanding the Process

SACPA reflects a mix of generations. Some began engaging in civil activism this year, others decades ago. During Sunday’s meeting, Salas — a college professor and former city councilman — told members he’s been fighting for police reform since the 1960s. At one point, he did so as a member of the Black Panther Party.

Standing at a podium draped with a Black Lives Matter flag, State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio, praised her ancestors who fought for civil liberties when she was a child. A member of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, she explained the status of the George Floyd Act, unveiled last week by lawmakers with the aim of banning chokeholds and restricting police use of force statewide.

Although the act can be filed as early as November, it won’t be heard by Texas Legislature until February or March, Hawkins cautioned. And in a state house dominated by Republicans, Hawkins said it’ll be difficult to get the bill passed.
“Once you understand the process, once you understand the rules of the game, you can play,” she said. “If you don’t know the rules, you’re not gonna win.”

Long Road Ahead

During their comments, both Hawkins and Salas wanted younger coalition members to understand they’re running is a marathon not a sprint as they demand more police accountability.

Jolene Garcia, leader of Reliable Revolutionaries, a Black Lives Matter organization, asked if the group could go to Austin and filibuster the house. The suggestion was met with an enthusiastic response from the 20-somethings in the room.

Among those was Pharaoh Clark, an outspoken coalition member, who in June handed Mayor Ron Nirenberg a list of demands aimed at tackling systemic racism in the city. Clark said he’s dedicated his life to the long-haul the older members described.

“I truly feel like what Ms. Barbara said, that it is a marathon, and not a sprint,” he said. “I’m here to be a part of that marathon.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Salas asked coalition members to go around the room and introduce themselves. Each cited his or her own story of grief or experiences with racism as the reason they attended.

Jeaux Parks, a single mother of three, said she didn’t have an active voice at the start of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But now, as a leader of the Reliable Revolutionaries activist group, she said the lack of Black leadership at Black Lives Matter protests motivated her to speak out.

She told the group she hasn’t been able to watch the video of George Floyd’s death in its entirety.

“I’m a mother who has had to bury her son, and I can only imagine how his family felt watching a grown adult man call out for his mother in the last few minutes of his life,” she said.

She added: “Everybody keeps telling me how strong I am, and how impassioned. That passion you see is fear.”

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