“I called this press conference in order to address the behavior displayed by the San Antonio Police Department,” said Artessia House, a local attorney with Tess House Law. House was speaking to San Antonio community leaders gathered at the San Antonio Police Department located downtown. They were there to demand accountability after a video was posted of twenty-three SAPD officers publicly supporting Republican presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump.
After his Oct. 11 fundraising visit to San Antonio, Trump posted video of on-duty SAPD officers wearing “Make America Great Again” hats on his Twitter account. The video was shared 12.6 thousand times and has 31.3 thousand likes, gaining national attention.
Trump is endorsed by the National Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest law enforcement union which represents 330,000 members. He calls himself the “law and order” candidate.
A call to action and press conference was coordinated by House, and the event was advertised via Facebook by Johnathan-David Jones, UTSA alumnus, who also participated in last week’s silent protest that took place in the Sombrilla.
“We just want to make sure that the SAPD doesn’t try to sweep this under the rug,” said Jones.
“I don’t think the SAPD should wear those Trump caps in uniform, while representing San Antonio,” said Ezra Abuabara, an undeclared UTSA freshman, “because not all of San Antonio is for Trump.”
Drake Brown, senior political science major stated, “I believe in freedom of speech, but, if there are policies under the department, they should be followed. The problem I have with the situation is the double standard.”
Brown said, “The chief has already taken pictures in political garb and has been involved in political events while in uniform. I also believe that had these officers worn an Obama ‘change’ shirt during an encounter while President Obama was running for office, there would have not been a big uproar about officers wearing political garb.”
Section. 2-50 of San Antonio’s Code of Ordinances limits city officials and employees’ political activity. Subsection 1 on “Influencing Subordinates” states “a City official or employee shall not, directly or indirectly, induce or attempt to induce any city subordinate of the official or employee.”
Specifically, Section 1.a states that public employees cannot “participate in an election campaign, contribute to a candidate or political committee or engage in any other political activity relating to a particular party, candidate or issue.”
“When you’re representing a public safety organization, it’s completely different from an individual who’s representing or supporting a candidate,” Jones added. “I don’t know a single one of those officers’ names, which is a testament to how I don’t see them as individuals; I see them as an organization, so what that looks like is the SAPD supports Donald.”
For House, the officers’ overt support of Trump is a symptom of deeper issues with police in the city.
“Honestly, based on the past behaviors of the police department, there’s not much faith we can put into the accountability measures the city puts to the local police agency,” House said to the press. “That’s why we’re gathered here, wanting the Department of Justice to open an investigation.”
“The police are definitely making a statement,” Niaga Cole, a graduate student in higher education leadership administration said. “I’d say it’s almost unreal, like a joke, but that can bring turmoil between the SAPD and the community, especially with Black Lives Matter going on. Different cultures are kind of afraid of SAPD and police in general.”
“My thing isn’t about them supporting Trump (but) more about how they broke policy,” Cole continued. “Their action is a wake-up call to our police department going against the rules. They just don’t care; they do what they want, and they’re the people who are supposed to protect us.”
A rally followed the press conference, and the floor was open to anyone who wanted to share their thoughts and reactions. Among the attendees was Christopher Herring, a City of San Antonio, Texas Mayoral Appointee to the Small Business Advocacy Committee.
Herring asked constituents to write their councilperson to make sure that “they ask the police chief exactly who were the officers disciplined and then also ask for a review of the officer’s record, so the community can fully understand what kind of police we have in our communities.”
In order to keep police accountable, “they have to know that the community is aware of what their record stands for,” Herring explained.
“If we never ask for the record, then they can police how they choose to police and never have accountability to you or me.”
Janet Oyeteju, a third-year St. Mary’s Law student, UTSA alumna and “volunteer of the year,” was at the Call to Action press conference to support House’s message. Oyeteju met House through the Black Law Student Association, a St. Mary’s Law school organization.
Oyeteju encouraged students to get involved in different school organizations that have an agenda, support something and then focus on the communities you live in.
House reminded San Antonians that their voices can implement change.
“We have elections right around the corner. The best way to get involved is to find out about the candidates that are going to be representing you here.”
House also highlighted the link between who’s on city council and treatment of police. “When it comes to the San Antonio Police Officer Association, they endorse candidates, the question is, who are they endorsing? And the question to those endorsed candidates: what are they willing to risk and what is at stake, when it comes to their allegiance to the San Antonio Police Officers Association. It’s extremely political, but it’s not that hard to find out,” she said. Judicial and local elections will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Jones is working on these issues as a member of the city’s Police Community Relations Committee.
“We raise conversations where we can be consistent and rigorous when it comes to cases like this if we don’t see a response from the city,” he said when explaining his role on the committee.
Police Chief William McManus has since announced that six supervisors will be issued a written reprimand, and 17 officers will be provided written counseling. In addition, as part of the corrective action, the officers involved will also receive training this month that will focus on “the importance of impartiality and fairness in performance of official duties.”