Charter aims to codify justice reforms

Chloe Williams, Web and Social Editor

Chloe Williams

San Antonio Justice Charter is a coalition led by ACT 4 SA, an organization working to shrink the impact of over-policing and mass incarceration in Bexar County, and Ground Game Texas, whose goal is to increase participation in democracy. The coalition also collaborates with Immigrant Legal Resource Center, SA Stands and MOVE Texas.

According to the current San Antonio City Charter, at least 20,000 signatures from current San Antonio citizens are required to put something on the ballot. On Jan. 10, the coalition turned in over 38,000 signatures, and they fully expect the charter to be listed on the ballot as a “single measure (proposition)” for the May 6 election.

If passed, the amendment aims to decriminalize marijuana and abortion, ban no knock warrants and chokeholds and adopt a “cite and release” policy for nonviolent, low-level offenses. 

Executive Director of ACT 4 SA Ananda Tomas recounts that the group formed when “criminal justice organizations gathered to discuss how to get cite and release codified after failure to even have it heard on the city council floor.” 

“In these conversations also came the need to decriminalize marijuana and other criminal justice-centered initiatives — such as the failure of the city to actually make the banning of chokeholds law, rather than an SAPD policy that can change at any time,” Tomas said. “What further pushed us was the fact that certain candidates on the November ballot — such as Marc LaHood for District Attorney — wanted to end the cite and release program and believed that even the smallest amounts of marijuana should be arrestable offenses. Plus, we knew after the overturning of Roe v Wade and the trigger ban in Texas — we as the community had to take action.” 

The San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) implemented the cite and release initiative in July 2019, and since then, it has avoided 6,235 bookings when a citation was issued rather than an arrest. According to the SAPD website, they have also saved over $4.7 million in booking costs since implementation. Of these citations, 63.2% were for the possession of zero to two oz of marijuana. Codifying this initiative would ensure “cite and release” could not be removed by future city councils or district attorneys.

Of the 3,021 citations issued on marijuana counts, 2,132 were issued to people of color. According to the San Antonio Justice Charter’s website on decriminalizing marijuana, “These [citations and arrests] disproportionately targeted Black and Hispanic community members. To promote justice and avoid waste of tax dollars, we want to redirect resources towards real public safety solutions.” 

According to a News4SA article, no-knock warrants and sleeper holds have been banned by SAPD since 2020, and chokeholds have been banned since 2014. Regardless of these bans, the Justice Charter hopes to codify them into law. That way, the bans cannot be removed or changed by following police chiefs.

In the last election, Texas voters in five cities voted to decriminalize marijuana. While the legalization of marijuana would have to pass at the state or federal level, the passing of the charter would “direct the police department to stop issuing citations or making arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession.” 

In the decriminalization of abortion, the charter states, “City of San Antonio police officers shall not investigate, make arrests or otherwise enforce any alleged criminal abortion, except in the circumstances identified in Section 177(d);” the circumstances listed include when “coercion or force is used against a pregnant person [or] in cases involving conduct criminally negligent to the health of the pregnant person seeking care.”

Another key part of the charter amendment is the creation of a “Justice Director” position; this position would be appointed by the City Council, including the Mayor and District Representatives. According to the charter, the justice director  will “fulfill the city’s social justice three-part mandate of reducing the City’s contribution to mass incarceration, mitigating racist and discriminatory law enforcement practices, and saving scarce public resources for greater public needs.” 

Tomas describes the end goal of the petition and charter to “reduce unnecessary arrests, stop discriminatory and dangerous police practices, and save scarce public safety resources so they can be reinvested back into the community for other initiatives like violence interruption programs, afterschool programs, mental health services, better street lighting and more.”

“Further than this, we would be the first city in Texas to decriminalize abortion, making us a beacon for women’s rights across the state — hopefully serving [as] a model for other Texas cities to follow,” Tomas said.

Tomas and the San Antonio Justice Charter encourage all to read the policy language and get registered to vote. San Antonio’s General Election day will take place Saturday, May 6, 2023. More information about the Justice Charter is available at