North Texas Daily

Controversy surrounds police and Proposition B in weeks leading up to City Council vote

Controversy surrounds police and Proposition B in weeks leading up to City Council vote

Controversy surrounds police and Proposition B in weeks leading up to City Council vote
June 02
10:00 2023

Months after the city of Denton failed to implement Proposition B, the proposal in its entirety will be put to vote once again by a full council on June 6.

During the May 16 council meeting, District 2 Council Member Brian Beck asked for Proposition B to be put back to a council vote. The request was approved by a four-three vote and was put on the agenda for the following city council meeting.

“Going into the next council [meeting], I call for implementing it exactly as we have written,” Beck said. “If there’s problems implementing it, let’s go over that, find out if they’re really real problems, or if this is a problem of narrative and not actually what the ordinance says. Then if we need to strengthen the will of the voters in particular ways and make it clearer, more concrete or better able to be understood and followed by people and leadership people in the community, I think that’s what I want in that sort of next 60 days.”

Proposition B was passed with 71 percent of the vote back in November. Three months later, in February, city manager Sarah Hensley said that they did not have the legal authority to enact the ordinance. A divided city council caused further challenges and has left the proposition’s future uncertain.

“I voted against it originally, and I plan to vote against it when it comes up again,” District 4 Council Member Joe Holland said. “The overwhelming thing is that I think it’s inappropriate that it’s in front of the City Council. The legislature, the House of Representatives and [the] State Senate make laws, and the governor signs them, and this is just out of sync. It’s not in the purview of the City Council to make a law like this.”

In the weeks following the May 16 meeting, more controversy has arisen specifically surrounding the Denton Police Department. On May 22, the department released data related to marijuana possession, which showed a majority of citations being given to people of color. Within the three-month reporting period, 67 percent of the citations were received by people of color. The city’s population is 74 percent white and 10 percent Black, according to the latest census.

Deb Armintor, former at-large City Council Member and board member of local activist group Decriminalize Denton, said many of these citations were preceded by responses to minor traffic violations and racially motivated complaints from citizens.

“As long as they continue to refuse to enforce Proposition B this racial disparity is going to keep on going at the same rate or even get worse — but it hasn’t gotten any better,” Armintor said. “It has gotten much, much worse.”

Last week, Decriminalize Denton posted anonymous email tips it received to social media, alleging that Chief of Police Doug Shoemaker had been encouraging officers to attend the June 6 meeting without uniform to speak against Prob B. The post also alleges Shoemaker had been contacting local Black ministers and community leaders, seemingly in an effort to gain their support for the Police Department.

“At the end of the day, this election has already happened — the people voted on it,” Armintor said. “You might not like it, you might not agree with it, but this is what the people have voted into law. It is a local ordinance. Until the highest Court of Appeals comes down and says this violates state law, which I don’t think it’s going to happen because this is so popular and it does not violate state law. But until that happens it’s your job to see to it that this ordinance is fully implemented.”

On Friday, the police released a statement in response to the allegations, stating it is the police chief’s responsibility to inform the department of important council meeting agendas. Hensley released a statement through a city spokesperson to the Denton Record Chronicle the same day, defending public participation on issues from all sides of the community.

For those opposed to Proposition B, there are concerns surrounding Section 21-85 of the ordinance, which states “Any violation of this chapter may subject a Denton police officer to discipline as provided by the Texas Local Government Code or as provided in City policy.” Beck said this doesn’t mean Proposition B is calling for the firing of police officers, which he says is a misconception about the ordinance.

“We’re moving ahead and following the will of the voters and saying ‘we got you, we’re going to do it,’” Beck said. “That does not mean it’s written in stone, coming down out of a mountain and never should be changed. If there are problems, we can make changes — we change laws and ordinances all the time.”

Decriminalize Denton continues to stay active on social media about the unfolding situation and information about Prop B and cannabis. Armintor encourages supporters of Prop B to come to the meeting and make their voices heard by sharing how the proposition will affect their lives.

“We are planning on having a demonstration beforehand, right at City Hall and we’re going to be using our social media to get people to come out to the demonstration and to fill out a card, to speak at the City Council,” Armintor said. “People don’t have to be an expert on Proposition B or cannabis and prohibition. People can come out and just speak from their heart.”

Featured Image: A Denton City sign sits at the public entrance of City Hall at McKinney Street on May 28, 2023. Lauren Campbell

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Celie Price

Celie Price

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