Photo Courtesy of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center

San Antonio mayoral candidates had the opportunity to address several important issues including the lack of voter participation, community and police relations, an increase of fear among undocumented immigrants, implementing environmentally sustainable policies, housing policies and public transportation policies.

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center hosted the Mayoral Forum on Social, Economic, Gender and Environmental Justice on Sunday, April 9. The event was sponsored by Esperanza, Domesticas Unidas, San Antonio Gender Association, PolitiQueers, Southwest Workers Union, Black Lives Matter UTSA, Spectrum UTSA, Liberty League of San Antonio, RAICES and MOVE SA.

The participating mayoral candidates were District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, Antonio Diaz, Rhett Smith, John Velazquez and Stephen Lucke. Mayor Ivy Taylor did not attend due to a prior commitment. Bexar County Democratic Party Chair Manuel Medina was not in attendance, despite telling Esparanza he would be. Medina failed to contact any of the organizers in advance, leaving many of the staff and crowd confused.

Each sponsor had the opportunity to discuss an issue and ask the candidates a couple of questions. Issues addressed at this event included the importance of living wages and reliable public transportation. Everyone on stage except for Rhett Smith answered yes to incrementally moving towards a $17 an hour minimum wage.

Stephen Lucke, one of the candidates, proposed “free bus passes for everyone below a certain income.” Lucke, a health and wellness enthusiast and professional from the eastside, has developed a low-profile campaign around education, health, environment and cannabis reform.

“One thing that stood out to me about the candidates was how passionate Stephen Lucke was about his city. The issues that I care about most are immigration reform, marijuana reform and education,” said sophomore business major Helen Ramos.

Black Lives Matter UTSA (BLMUTSA) discussed overpolicing in predominantly colored communities, decriminalizing marijuana, cracking down on human trafficking, demilitarizing the SAPD, addressing food deserts and developing community gardens and grocery stores.

BLMUTSA asked the participants if they would support a biennial review of the SAPD and a review council chaired by citizens; everyone on stage voiced support of the idea. They all agreed increasing trust between residents and police is key to a healthy relationship between law enforcement and community.

“Today, we spoke to the mayoral candidates about what we’d like to see from them as far as police reform and criminal justice reform,” BLMUTSA President Tabbi Austin stated. “We really want a large amount of transparency and accountability when it comes to data collection and record keeping.”

“We want to reinforce the idea of community control of the police. Especially in areas where the police force does not represent the community,” said Ashley Billiard, treasurer of BLMUTSA.

After Harris County implemented their new marijuana policy (no arrest or charge when caught with less than four ounces if the person pays a fee and attends an education course), many suspect San Antonio residents may begin to push for a similar policy.

“Because of UTSA, San Antonio does have a large influx of Houston youth. So, I think if we can get the students involved in city politics, hopefully they’ll be able to put pressure on them, so that they do start decriminalizing marijuana,” Austin said.

“The criminalization of marijuana really targets black and brown bodies. When we see a decrease in the criminalization, we’ll see a much more vibrant youth, especially among minority communities,” stated Billiard.

The issues pointed out by BLMUTSA, Domesticas Unidas and the other organizations in attendance are derived from consideration of structural inequalities in the city of San Antonio. A structure that several of the candidates are a part of.

Only 3.6 percent of 18 to 35-year-olds voted during the 2015 municipal election.  The average age of a San Antonio voter is 63; the average age of a San Antonio resident is 34.

“The cure to civic disengagement isn’t just lowering the age to vote; it’s energizing people who are just sitting on the sidelines.” Eighteen-year olds in this community have 60 percent less voice at the polls because they’re simply just not participating. We have to make voting easier for the people who are eligible to vote now,” stated Councilman Nirenberg.

The candidates will be working hard to increase turnout among younger voters before the election on May 6. Early voting starts on April 24.

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