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San Antonio Police Union Chief Says Mayor's Curse Word No Different From Officer's Use of N-Word


San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle endorses then-Mayor Ivy Taylor during a City Hall in a San Antonio Current file photo. - ALEX ZIELINSKI
  • Alex Zielinski
  • San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle endorses then-Mayor Ivy Taylor during a City Hall in a San Antonio Current file photo.
San Antonio police union President Mike Helle is drawing rebukes after comparing a local officer's repeated use of the N-word during an arrest to Mayor Ron Nirenberg letting an expletive fly when he recently addressed anti-police brutality protesters.

The comparison came during a June 10 interview with TV station KSAT, during which Helle defended the reinstatement of Tim Garcia, an SAPD officer fired after repeatedly using the N-word when arresting a Black suspect. Helle likened Garcia's use of the epithet to Nirenberg cursing when he recently spoke to protesters.

"Because I’m the mayor of this goddamn city, and we’re going to make change together, OK?" the mayor told demonstrators earlier this month during a speech outside Bexar County Courthouse.

"If a policeman would have said the exact same thing that the mayor had done, he would have been facing discipline and probably termination, because they’re saying that you brought discredit to the police department," Helle said during the KSAT interview.

When pressed, Helle confirmed to the station that the thought the two words were comparable.

"If you’re somebody [with] a religious upbringing, that may be comparable to using the N-word," said Helle, the longtime president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association.

Helle said Garcia shouldn't have used the word but defended an arbitrator's decision to give the officer his job back after a 10-month suspension, adding that the original punishment was excessive.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, tweeted that Helle's equivocation of an expletive and racist remark did "damage and disservice" to SAPD officers.

In an interview with the Current, Nirenberg said Helle's claim that the two words were equally offensive is "offensive in itself."

When asked whether the statement meant Helle understands the concerns of protesters who have taken to the street in recent weeks demanding racial justice, Nirenberg said readers should draw their own conclusions.

"At the very least, it's tone deaf," the mayor said.

In an emailed response to the Current, Helle said both the officer's use of the epithet and the mayor's use of the swear words "shouldn't have been used." 

"If you're person of faith, it's completely offensive and violates the Third Commandment," he said. "My point was obviously not understood that the language by an officer can get you fired, but language from a politician was seen as appropriate.

"As far as the congressman, his comments are irrelevant to me and our membership."

Earlier this month, Helle announced he plans to retire as union chief around the end of the year.

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