Protestors demand police reform from Mayor Nirenberg, city officials

by Benjamin GonzalezJune 5, 2020
Protestors begin their walk to the Bexar County Courthouse, Thursday, June 4 in front of the Public Safety Headquarters at 315 S Santa Rosa. Photo by V. Finster | Heron

On the sixth consecutive day of gatherings against police brutality in downtown San Antonio, about 500 protestors looked for city officials to match verbal support with action.

Last night, the peaceful protest began at 3:30 p.m. at public safety headquarters on South Santa Rosa Street and soon moved to the Bexar County Courthouse where demonstrators gathered at the front steps. The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd, who was killed by Derek Chauvin, the now-fired Minneapolis cop, last week. Much of the protest revolved around changes organizers wanted to see reflected in local government.

Pharaoh Clark, 32, a local activist and representative of Uniting America Through Wisdom, announced a list of 10 demands for specific changes from the city. These included a citizen review board for all complaints against San Antonio Police Department officers, a minimum of $250,000 paid to the family of any unarmed civilian unlawfully killed by police, and a monthly forum for the public to interact with the police department.

Speaking to protestors in front of the courthouse, Mayor Ron Nirenberg highlighted the need for action beyond simply expressing support.

“Y'all are tired of the conversations that we continue to have year after year where the end result is something like this,” Nirenberg said. “We hear you, we know there needs to be a change, and we’re going to set up a committee to help us through that. But I’m here to tell you that I don’t want any more committees.”

Nirenberg turned to Clark and committed to “working every single day” with him until “everyone can go home without feeling like they have to fight for… the freedom to feel safe in their own community.”

Earlier in the day, a Black Lives Matter protest erupted inside City Council chambers, before the council was set to vote on a mid-year budget adjustment due to Covid-19. They called for defunding SAPD, which, along with the fire department and park police, accounts for $820.3 million—or 64%—of the city's $1.27 billion general fund. Nirenberg, several times, threatened to suspend the meeting to restore order, but ultimately didn’t. The meeting resumed after he promised Clark he’d meet with him in his office after the meeting and start a meaningful dialogue.

At the end of his speech to the protestors, Nirenberg volunteered to take responsibility for future changes.

“There will be people... who will wear a uniform and make mistakes, but let’s forgive that, and hold me accountable for it,” Nirenberg said. “Because I’m the mayor of this goddamn city, and we’re going to make change together, OK?”

The crowd generally responded favorably to Nirenberg’s speech, applauding multiple times throughout. But many protestors made it clear that they want to see it result in real action.

“I want to thank (the mayor) for coming... but he is right, we are looking for accountability,” one of the organizers said to the crowd. “We are looking for him to have action with his words. You can say all the words you want, but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t back it up.”

Tony Mandujano, an army veteran and attendee of the protest, is hoping for improvements in the ways police are prepared for their job. He emphasized the importance of “making sure they go through multicultural training to know every facet of the communities where they get their job.”

The protest was organized by Young Ambitious Activists, a new local organization that plans to keep holding frequent protests, according to organizers. They emphasized the importance of younger people taking action.

"Me being as young as I am, I haven’t really had a major opportunity to protest," said Jesse, an 18-year-old protestor who preferred to give only his first name. "After this horrible situation, this is the perfect opportunity to get out of the house and go protest...I see now why people fight so hard and are coming (to the protests) daily. It’s such an invigorating movement.”

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Benjamin Gonzalez is a reporting intern at the Heron. He graduated from Trinity University with a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology, and can be reached at bencruzgonzalez@saheron.com, @BennyCruzG on Twitter.

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