Organizers inaugurate bid to amend city charter, decriminalize abortion and ban chokeholds

A coalition of local and state organizations announced a new amendment to the city charter on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday — the San Antonio Justice Charter.

If passed, the amendment would decriminalize low-level marijuana possession and abortions, expand citation and discharge for non-violent offenses, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and appoint a director of justice to oversee city policy.

The push for the San Antonio Justice Charter is led by ACT 4 SAa grassroots organization dedicated to pressing for police accountability through community action and policy, and Texas Ground Gamea statewide progressive organizing group.

Ananda Tomas, founder and executive director of ACT 4 SA, said the reforms proposed in the amendment should be passed for moral and fiscal reasons.

“This initiative will amend the San Antonio City Charter to adopt a justice policy that will reduce unnecessary arrests and save scarce public resources,” she added.

Tomas explained that the amendment is what community members want and need.

“This sweeping reform will save thousands of people from being imprisoned for low-level, non-violent offenses, keep families together, fight evictions, and keep the community out of systems that ruin lives that don’t do much to rehabilitate or help people,” she said.

Julie Oliver, co-founder of Ground Game Texas, stressed the need for the city charter to explicitly decriminalize abortions, despite the fact that city leaders, including District Attorney Joe Gonzales and the County Sheriff of Bexar, Javier Salazar, said they would not prosecute abortions. .

“I keep saying that a doctor shouldn’t have to call their defense attorney before providing life-saving care to a pregnant person,” Oliver said.

Josh Peck

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Texas Public Radio

Community members sign the petition for San Antonio’s Justice Charter during the May ballot at a table in front of City Hall.

The portion of the amendment to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession would eliminate citations and arrests for both Class A and Class B possession offenses, with some exceptions.

Chokes and no-knock warrants — the practice of entering people’s homes with a warrant without first telling them, which played a role in the 2020 death of Breonna Taylor — are already effectively banned by the San Antonio Police Department, although there are some caveats for both. This amendment would codify the prohibitions in the city charter.

The charter amendment also creates the position of Chief Justice, appointed by the city council and the mayor, to enforce the policies contained in the amendment and to oversee all city policies related to “the contribution of the city ​​to mass incarceration, mitigation of racist and discriminatory practices in law enforcement”. , and saving scarce public resources for greater public needs.

The Director of Justice would provide the council with a justice impact statement prior to council votes that affect such matters, including the annual budget and contract negotiations related to the San Antonio Police Department. They would also issue an annual justice impact statement for city operations and hold quarterly meetings for public stakeholders, the SAPD and the Bexar County Attorney’s Office.

The petition for the amendment requires 20,000 verified signatures by January to appear on the municipal ballot in May.

Aaron Arguello, a San Antonio advocacy organizer with MOVE Texas, said his organization feels a popular push for these types of reforms.

“We see and hear firsthand that young people overwhelmingly want to see an end to mass incarceration,” he said.

Tomas was previously deputy director of Fix SAPD, the organization that lobbied for a municipal proposal in 2021 called Prop B. That would have eliminated the police department’s ability to bargain collectively. Prop B is two points short.

She said the experience has given her and coalition members confidence that they can get another amendment on the ballot.

“Based on past initiatives that I have seen, this is probably much more supported by the population, so I really think that we will vote and vote faster than we think, and we will see a positive response from the population. community once we’re on the ballot and win this thing,” Tomas said.

Organizers said they felt they had to come up with a city charter because the city council failed to make the changes they felt were necessary.

“Our leadership, our bureaucracy will no longer be a blockade,” Tomas said. “We legislate ourselves and push through something we’ve been asking for for years.”

District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez was quick to voice his support for the initiative on Twitter and encouraged voters to sign the petition.

Tomas and Oliver were joined by representatives from the San Antonio AFL-CIO, MOVE Texas, SA Stands, Bexar County Young Dems, Party for Socialism and Liberation, San Antonio Immigrants Legal Resource Center, Radical Registrars, Black Freedom Factory and the Working Parties Family Texas for the announcement.

People can read a copy of the charter amendment language or sign the petition on Ground Game Texas website.

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