North Side communities have launched peaceful protests addressing ethnic intolerance and unequal justice, while some City Council members support reforming the police force.
Both Castle Hills and Stone Oak this summer saw demonstrations after Minneapolis police in May killed Houston native George Floyd, a Black man.
Residents in those North Side enclaves are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, which denounces the deaths of African Americans by law enforcement over the years.
During protests in other parts of the city and nationwide, activists are calling for changes to police departments, or even defunding them.
Meanwhile, council members and police-reform advocates propose revamping the collective bargaining agreement with the San Antonio Police Officers Association, saying the pact makes disciplining or firing problematic officers difficult.
Police Chief William McManus said the contract, expiring in 2021, should be improved.
But, he added, calls to defund or disband SAPD are “a little bit unrealistic.”
“It’s something that the council would have to take into consideration,” he added.
SAPOA President Mike Helle decried Floyd’s killing, but says it’s unfair to paint all police officers as loose cannons, racists or unaccountable to the law.
Three North Side councilmen have expressed support for increased police accountability, plus awareness of prejudice and social inequity.
However, it’s wrong to paint law enforcement with a broad, negative brush, they added.
In a virtual discussion about policing, District 8 Councilman Manny Peláez said SAPD’s recruitment efforts should be enhanced to “weed out” rogue individuals.
“The vast majority of police officers are good men and women,” he added. “I don’t pretend to know all the solutions, but there are continuous improvement opportunities we haven’t taken.”
District 9 Councilman John Courage said the city should review SAPD’s recruiting, testing and training procedures “to ensure that we are always putting the best people possible in these most critical positions of authority.”
Some protesters left June council meetings critical of District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry, claiming he appeared dismissive of their grievances.
Perry said he meant no disrespect to the activists, and recognizes a need for conversations about racism and humane policing.
“In order for us to work on making these changes together, it is critical that we respect each other’s differences and realize that while sometimes we will not agree, we are still trying to move the needle in the right direction,” he added.
Meanwhile, Stone Oak denizens drove more than 30 vehicles around the far North Side community June 13, with signs touting social justice.
“This is a revolt against racism,” one placard read; others referenced white privilege.
A peaceful march unfolded June 20 in Castle Hills. Co-organizer Ananda Tomas said BLM and the push for police reform, collectively, make for a civil-rights movement that’s growing in communities big and little worldwide.
“We are taking on systemic racism that was built into the very foundations of our society. That’s why it was important to have an event in Castle Hills, so residents can know that they are not alone in their support of the movement,” Tomas said.
“Furthermore, police brutality and corruption are also in every community, and sometimes especially in communities that are smaller where corrupt cops feel they can float under the radar. Bad cops are a danger to citizens and good cops alike,” she added.
Protests sparked by Floyd’s death have highlighted other issues such as violence against women, and discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
Demonstrators also demand Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales reopen the cases of Marquise Jones, Charles Roundtree and Antronie Scott, who all died during encounters with peace officers. Yet, Gonzales has rebuffed those requests.
In a related matter, a North Side business is using its core product to promote unity amid social unrest.
Weathered Souls Brewing Co. launched “Black is Beautiful,” a collaborative attempt among craft breweries and their customers to shine a light on racial injustice.
The business created an imperial stout, named Black is Beautiful, and invited like-minded breweries to brew a version of the beer.
Weathered Souls also asked collaborators to contribute to local groups touting police reform and legal defenses for those wronged.
The company raised more than $30,000 from sales of its initial Black is Beautiful release. More than 1,000 breweries nationwide and in 18 other countries have joined the campaign.
“When has there ever been 1,000-plus separate businesses supporting commerce to a cause that is driven for equality and inclusion?” asked Marcus Baskerville, Weathered Souls’ head brewer and co-founder.