Judge Diaz is still in her first term as an elected district court judge, but she is already making her mark on creating new systems to address domestic violence. If you enjoyed the episode with Gary Slutkin, you will enjoy hearing about this innovative approach to domestic violence.
Justin Hill: Hello and Bienvenidos, San Antonio. Welcome to the Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian, and keeper of chickens and bees. On the Alamo Hour, you’ll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique, and the best-kept secret in Texas. We’re glad that you’re here.[applause]
All right. Welcome to the Alamo Hour, today’s guest is Judge Monique Diaz, the 150th Judicial District elected judge here in Bexar County, thanks judge for being here.
Monique Diaz: Hi Justin. Thank you for having me, that was quite the introduction.
Justin: Well, we put a lot of work into it. Judge Diaz and I go way back long before either of us were really more than just trying to find our way in the legal, and showing up at political fundraisers for one reason or another, and the lowest of the low people on the totem pole at that point. We met a long time ago and we’ve stayed in touch and now you’re a judge, and I kind of know how to find the courthouse now so we’ve grown up a little bit.
Monique: We sure have. It’s been quite a while and there’s no need to really find the courthouse anymore because everything is on Zoom so-
Justin: This is true.
Monique: -you can find it at the comfort of your home, Justin.
Justin: Unfortunately, some of the smaller counties though don’t really like the Zoom and there are some places that are requiring people to show up.
Monique: I have heard that that’s the case and it’s my understanding that under the Supreme Court has issued a series of orders that have helped guide our decisions, in whether we can have in-person hearings or not. It’s my understanding that some counties can do that, if they have a plan that’s been pre-approved and if their local county officials decide to proceed with that. Here in Bexar County, we’re not quite ready for that yet.
Justin: Well, there was a federal court case in Sherman, Texas that got going and last I heard, they had traced it out to 40 people that had gotten sick from just that trial. They canceled it midway and then just, it went gangbusters.
Monique: I saw that Justin, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re being really careful here in Bexar County. We do have a plan that was approved by the Supreme Court already however, our local administrative judge and our local officials are not ready to proceed yet. They’re really relying primarily on the Metro Health recommendations on when it’s safe for us to all proceed.
Now, we have plexiglass up in our courtrooms and we’re ready to go otherwise, but I think they’re looking at things like– They have some a matrix where they look at the positivity rate, the death rate, and the amount of hospital beds, so that’s part of what we’re looking to. I don’t see us being ready by the tentative April-1st deadline that you may have heard about.
Justin: It’s good that we have elected officials paying attention to science in their decision-making. We’re going to get to the courthouse here in a second, I want to ask you some questions about that, but just some of the– We go through general getting to know you, this is San Antonio podcast, San Antonio stuff.
Judge, what are you doing to decompress during all this, because honestly it, at first I think we were all like, “Oh, let’s make a sourdough bread,” and now we’re watching an insurrection? It’s taken on a life of its own, I wish I had a better way to decompress, but instead I’ve just put on a few pounds but I’ll lose them. What have you been doing to stay sane?
Monique: Well, I also put on the COVID-19 as I like to fondly call it.
Monique: I was one of those people that got in line to buy a bicycle and I’ve been trying to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible, I ride my bike wherever I can. I actually sold my car because I [chuckles] [crosstalk] so little. Besides that, I’ve been working really hard but I’ve been enjoying podcasts like yours, trying to catch up on reading and puzzles. I’m a little obsessed with puzzles, they’ve been a good way to decompress.
Justin: Do you live close enough to the courthouse to ride?
Monique: Well, I don’t like to comment on where I live Mr. Hill, but [chuckles] I do like to ride around the city wherever I can. My partner and I have a car, so when I need one or I need to get [crosstalk].
Justin: You have access to a car, okay.
Justine: I tell people I ride to the office and I do ride to the office, I just don’t tell them how close it is because it’s way less impressive when I tell them that.
Justin: I’ve gone bike-crazy. I bought an electric bike, it kind of got forced upon me, which is really awesome but I also did the Peloton thing and now I’m in that never-ending trap of, “It’ll be delivered in two weeks” and then it keeps getting pushed so I don’t have it yet.
Monique: Oh, man. Well.
Justin: We’re in quarantine, we don’t get to go out. You and I have both always been social people, we’d see each other out and about at whatever’s going on in town. Have you gotten into any of the Netflix stuff or any of the shows, any of the streaming stuff?
Monique: I have binge-watched about everything you can binge-watch, I’ve maxed out on that and circled back around the shows that I watched in the past even, but I’ve really been trying to get away from the streaming and really trying to spend more time outdoors. I went fishing this past weekend,-
Monique: -popped my rainbow trout first time I went fly fishing. I’m really trying to stay away from that, and to try to keep a positive outlook– A lot of those Netflix shows and the news nowadays can really add to the heaviness that we’re experiencing [chuckles].
Justin: Yes, I agree.
Monique: There’s not a lot of things to watch out there. I did watch The Mandalorian lately, I’ve binge-watched that, and that was a fun life-hugging show to watch on Disney+ that I highly recommend.
Justin: I’ve just never got into any of the Star Wars stuff, but somebody told me I’d still like The Mandalorianeven if I did not get into it.
Monique: I am in the same boat.
Justin: Part of my COVID-19 was that early on, “Support local, go to your favorite restaurants and do takeout, let’s help them stay afloat.” I could float now because of it, but have you had any favorite places for takeout or, that you’ve trended into during COVID?
Monique: Unfortunately, so many folks in the industry have really been affected, a lot of my favorite places I’ve watched shut down, or have to scale back and that’s been really hard to watch. I am still trying to support all of the local businesses, at least through delivery, contactless delivery, I’m really supporting that. In terms of specific restaurant, I have specific genres of food that I like. I really like Thai food, so anywhere that I can get some good Thai food delivered to me, I’m really enjoying that. I’m trying to eat a little bit healthier to take care of this COVID-19 issue though, as in my pounds. [laughs]
Justin: I live very close to Thai-D, so I eat there more than I probably should. You’re born and raised in San Antonio, right?
Monique: Yes, born and raised here but part Puerto Rican and Dominican,
Justin: Well, you should be good at this question. I always ask people what their favorite hidden gems are in the city, sort of the off-the-beaten-path places. Nurenberg gave me Denman Estate Park or something I’d never heard of. I thought I knew San Antonio okay but I’ve been put back in my seat from some of them. What are some of your favorite places in town, maybe off the beaten path that you have somebody in town say,”Well, you really got to check this out”?
Monique: Oh man. I know it sounds really cliché, but the extension of the River Walk. People have not enjoyed going on the south end of the River Walk and going all the way to the missions. It is so different from what it looked like growing up which was unusable. That’s really been something that I encourage people and I try to take folks to go enjoy. There’s some really great gems on the Southside and the Westside, some good restaurants that I try to take people to. I still do take people to the St Mary’s Strip and the Pearl and you have to have that experience to see how San Antonio has been developing.
I grew up more so on the Northside so I’ve been enjoying learning what else there is available. I’m experiencing the city almost as a newcomer as well because it’s changed so drastically over the past decade or so, the decade of downtown has been really beautiful to watch. Enjoying watching that development has been wonderful, just taking people on things that used to be touristy, things to do that are now things I think locals can really appreciate just as much as tourists can.
Justin: Japanese Tea Garden was always one for me that I thought, “This is–,” And if I take people there, they’re always still just blown away by it. It’s just a unique, weird place tucked over by the zoo.
Monique: That’s a very good one. I’m glad you mentioned that, some of my favorites.
Justin: What’s your favorite Fiesta event?
Monique: Coronation. [chuckles]
Justin: I assumed you were going to say that.
Monique: I used to be able to participate. I was on stage and made a fool of myself quite a few times for a good cause before I took the bench but-
Justin: You can’t do anymore?
Monique: As a judge, it’s frowned upon. We’re not allowed to solicit funds on behalf of other organizations. There’s a perception that that could be considered that, that’s why I don’t participate anymore while I’m on the bench, but support it however I can otherwise.
Justin: I did see Kevin Wolff get on there and make a joke about getting a DUI, but I guess he wants listening funs, so that would be a little bit different.
Monique: Well, he’s not a judge. I don’t think he has that prohibition. That’s specific to judges.
Justin: Okay. It’s not elected officials, it’s judged-specific.
Monique: It’s judge-specific, yes. We can’t lend our name to causes like that.
Justin: We’re going to talk about a cause you’re involved with, but that’ll be an interesting question about whether you can be involved in that. You became an elected official, an elected judge in Bexar County in, I guess 2018 elections, sworn in, in 2019?
Monique: That’s correct.
Justin: You’re halfway into your four-year term?
Monique: I am, yes. I have to start running again this summer.
Justin: Okay. What made you decide you wanted to run for judge, district judge at that?
Monique: Well, when I decided to run was right around the time that former President Trump was elected. I, along with a lot of other folks I think just– I felt a true sense of helplessness in terms of what was happening at the national level, the political discourse that we were all experiencing and the trickle-down effect that had on families, children here in our community. I personally looked around me and thought I wanted to do something about this more than what I was able to accomplish through my law practice and my community service.
For me, running for judge was an opportunity to show people in my community that you can be treated with dignity and respect no matter your race, or how much money is in your pocket, or who you love. I think that’s really critical for– Especially at the courthouse amongst our judiciary, for us to understand that that is what our elected officials should really exhibit and especially our judges. I saw it as an opportunity to show people that respect, and I love the law and I love community service.
You know that I’ve always been very giving with my time on the side and done a lot of things for free, much like you’re doing with this show as a service to our community. I saw it as a chance to make a bigger impact for the folks here in San Antonio. It’s where I was born and raised, so wanted to give back to the city that’s given so much to me.
Justin: You were always involved in politics as long as I have known you, then you were a practicing lawyer and trended more into the practicing lawyer. There’s lots of different places you can go in elected office as a lawyer. Is there a reason you chose a district court bench over maybe a county court, or a criminal bench, or any of the other options?
Monique: Yes. That’s a good question. For me, that was where I had the most experience. I had a general law practice, so I did criminal law but I did more civil law than anything. Before I took the bench, I had a law firm that represented small cities, governmental entities, did a lot of practice in Civil District Courts. I did a lot of family law. That was my home, what I was most familiar with, but having had that experience on the criminal side has really been helpful on the civil bench, and also having had a general law practice. There’s not much that comes across my bench that I haven’t experienced or dealt with in some form or fashion as an attorney. It’s been really helpful for me.
Justin: You decided to run for office, the one thing I always hear people complain about is you got to raise a bunch of money and that’s an overwhelming piece of the campaign, but outside of raising money and shaking hands and giving your stump speech, anything surprising about the campaign or actually becoming the candidate that you didn’t expect?
Monique: Sure. You’re right. I worked on the side of my law practice doing some consulting and fundraising for other people. It really made it a lot easier for me to raise money for myself, to know what the basics were required to run a successful campaign. I wasn’t quite ready to talk about myself in the way that you really have to be so self-promoting. I was used to promoting other people not necessarily myself. One of the things that when people ask me that are interested in running for judge, “What should I do to start off with?” One of the things that surprised me was I had to sit down and figure out, “What is my story? What am I about? What is my vision?”
Those really overarching questions were things that I had not thought through for myself or for other candidates before. That was a really interesting learning experience about myself. Reaching out to my family members and asking them what their opinion is of me and what they thought I was going to be when I grew up, and what experiences they feel molded me into who I am today. I learned a lot about myself.
Justin: I’ve been through quite a few election cycles here and you ran a very different judicial campaign. You pulled from your friends in the industry, you threw–I think it’d be fair to say some of your events were almost backyard parties catching up with old friends. It was a different way of running a campaign, especially for something that’s always serious and austere like a judicial race. Was that just a product of who you are in your social circles, or did you make a conscious effort that you were going to run a different campaign to try to draw in more people?
Monique: I’d say it was both, Justin. I think for everyone that runs for any office, it’s really important to tap into your circles, your friends, your family and make the most of what you have available. I did make a conscious effort to try to bring more people into the fold that may not otherwise think that who you elect for your judge matters. I wanted to bring in folks that don’t usually get involved in judicial races to help them understand the importance of knowing who your judges are, voting for your judges. I’m confident that we had an impact on a different base of people that never voted for a judge in their life before, never knew why it mattered. Now, hopefully do and will continue to vote in judicial races going forward.
Justin: It was definitely a different crowd of people that were at your events. It just really was. It was the crowd I would see at Fiesta events or at social events, but you got people excited about a judicial race. It was fun to see, it was a different set of events and it was a different thing to enjoy when some of these events are– You’ve been there. They’re like-
Monique: You’ve got to take people who want to go.
Justin: No, I think that’s right. There was one event on the near Eastside, right outside of the Pearl, it was in a backyard.
Monique: I did have an actual backyard paella panchanga, Paella took off where we had a King Pelican playing for the pachanga part of it. If we were not about 110 °, it would have been a little bit more enjoyable [laughs].
Justin: I was going to say I went with Tim Maloney and I just remember watching his suit gets wetter and wetter as the day went on. We didn’t stay super long, but it was a great event. Somewhere along that time you’ve been on the court, Judge Sakai put in head of, or spearheaded the effort to create, and it’s a mouthful. The commission on collaborative strategies to prevent and combat and respond to domestic violence. I butchered that, but he became the spearheading main guy on it. He asked you to be a co-chair as best I could tell with Judge [unintelligible 00:18:07]
Monique: Almost correct. We like to refer to it as just the Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence shorthand, because that is a mouthful. My co-chair on behalf of the City of San Antonio because this was created as a joint city-county collaboration for the first time ever. We had leaders in our community in the area of domestic violence spearheaded by the city and the county. I was the representative and the coach here on behalf of the county.
On behalf of the city, my co-chair was Dr. Colleen Bridger, who you may recall has been our Metro Health Director. I call her the COVID Czar for quite a long time. However, this past month was her last month with us as co-chair and we’ll be rolling out a more formal announcement, but we’re excited that Maria Villagomez is going to be taking her position. She is an Assistant City Manager with the City of San Antonio who oversees Police Department. That’s going to bring a new element to the work that we’re doing. We’re really looking forward to having her as my co-chair on the [unintelligible 00:19:19]
Justin: You’re the county co-chair, she’s the city co-chair, what’s the Sakai’s title, Judge Sakai?
Monique: He’s the founder.
Monique: He founded it by court order, a special order as the local administrative judge at the time, created the commission and he did it in conjunction with City Manager Eric Walsh. To go back just a little bit, City Councilwoman, Shirley Gonzales and Councilman, Manny Pelaez both requested that the city put together a comprehensive domestic violence plan after the absolutely horrendous statistic that Bexar County had the honor of holding. In 2018, we had the highest rate of murders of women by men in all of Texas. That really spurred the community calls-for-action. We partnered up with Judge Sakai, reached out to Erik Walsh and they partnered up and decided that they needed to create this joint city-county collaboration. Judge Sakai founded that through an order of the court and he’s very much involved in all of the work that we’re doing.
Justin: I want you to tell me what the purpose of it is but when I was reading it, it really reminded me. I got to interview a guy who’s found a cure of violence and his whole thing was, “Let’s treat violence like an epidemiological problem, like a virus, like some sort of contagion that can be controlled.” It sounds a little bit like you all are taking the position of, “Let’s treat domestic violence like a public health problem as opposed to a criminal problem.” What the goal of the CCDV?
Monique: You hit the nail on the head. We are definitely taking an approach that domestic violence should be addressed as a public-health crisis. It really has been helpful to have this partnership with the city and a very active participation on behalf of Metro Health. The majority of the work that we do is geared towards prevention of domestic violence.
In order for us to really see a decrease in these numbers, we have to both yes, address the immediate concerns that we have of handling domestic violence through the justice system once it finally gets there, but we want to try to prevent it from getting there in the first place. The commission consists of– Right now we have eight committees. It started off as five and each committee is specific to an industry.
We have a judiciary committee, law enforcement committee, nonprofit committee, prosecution committee, healthcare committee, data faith-based and education committees. The goal is that each one of these committees are convening the leaders, in their respective committees that deal with domestic violence. We meet at least as an entire commission once a month and then, each committee also meets at least once a month.
What we’re doing is looking at the gaps in our community and domestic violence, and identifying evidence-based strategies to address those gaps. Every committee has taken on one to two gaps to address in the first year of our work. It’s been really comprehensive and it touches on all of those different industries.
The goal is that long-term by working as a collaboration, we’ll actually be able to move the needle on both preventing domestic violence in addition to addressing the immediate needs regarding domestic violence. I can go into more details about what those strategies look like, but that’s generally what we’re doing as a commission.
Justin: What’s an example of a gap?
Monique: One of the biggest gaps that we’re addressing through the judiciary committee and the nonprofit committees, for example, is access to legal representation. You’re a lawyer, you understand this, there is a great need for legal representation at the pro bono or low bono level, not only for victims of domestic violence, but also for respondents and defendants. What we see is there’s a lot of nonprofits out there that are working really, really hard to provide representation to victims, in particular victims seeking protective orders.
To step back a little bit, domestic violence doesn’t just happen in the context of a protective order.
We see domestic violence in divorces, in child support, in child-custody disputes. We’re really talking about an entire family unit that we need to help. Getting access to legal representation for victims beyond just seeking a protective order, where they can also get help with the divorce and the child custody or child-support issues.
Also for the respondents to understand the court’s orders and have an increased chance of abiding with those orders if they understand them, is all part of the critical component we’re talking about prevention. Domestic violence is a generational-very-much-learned behavior. In order for us to stop it long-term, we need to be sure that a victim has the ability to get stable, that they have the child support that they need, the housing that they need, employment to actually safely leave an abuser and be able to be on their feet.
We need to get the entire family’s counseling, make sure that the children are taken care of, that the children have counseling so that they don’t hopefully end up being victims or perpetrators themselves as statistics show often happens. That’s one of the gaps that we’re working on. Just to name a couple of others, there’s a need that we’re working on to put a process in place for the transfer of firearms, when an individuals should not be possessing firearms per a court order, per statute.
In domestic violence cases, we’re putting a process in place to make sure they actually get rid of those firearms. We have a communications campaign to make sure that we’re getting the word out to our community about, what is a healthy relationship and what is unhealthy relationship. Along with providing resources to folks and make sure they know that you can, for example, call or text 911, that we have these resources available in our community. Those are just 3 of the about 15 or so strategies that we’re working on to address those specific gaps in our community.
Justin: It just sounds like maybe we’re in the first quarter of really trying to identify where we’re lacking as a community, so then we can start putting strategies together?
Monique: Well, we already conducted a comprehensive evaluation before we began our work in conjunction with the City of San Antonio of all of the gaps. There’s a long list of gaps in our community and we’ve identified in long lists of strategies, where we’re at is the first stage, the first years of worth of work. What we believe we could accomplish in the first year to two years, and once we move past those strategies, we circle back and we pick additional strategies. This is a multi-year approach that I foresee us continuing to do this work for at least the next five years. I’m hoping for longer until we can address every one of those gaps.
Justin: Substance abuse has to be a part of this I would assume, right?
Monique: We certainly see substance abuse in a lot of cases that involve domestic violence. We try to be really careful about how we talk about that. People that are offenders of domestic violence may also have substance-abuse issues, but substance abuse is not considered to be a reason why people commit domestic violence.
It is a common factor that is present at the same time but you really have to work on an individual’s behavior, and their understanding of what is proper behavior and what isn’t, why they are engaging in that type of behavior outside of substance abuse. It’s usually something more than that. It’s not generally considered to be caused by substance-abuse issues. They’re just encouraged to domestic violence.
Justin: When I interviewed Gary Slutkin on the cure-of-violence part, a big part of their strategy is the granular community level of having what they call interrupters, individuals that are community leaders. It might just be the guy on this one block everybody turns to, is the faith-based arm the arm to really get out into the communities or is there an additional arm to really try to rope in our community leaders on a real granular sense?
Monique: That’s a good question. Within the commission, all of the leaders in domestic violence, leaders of our nonprofits and really those grassroots folks that are going out and doing that type of work, are members of the commission and participate in our nonprofit group and other meetings that we have. The commission itself, we have an element of our work that is based around community engagement. Prior to COVID, we were doing quarterly events in the community, where we would go out ourselves in different parts of the community, talk about our work, take questions.
With COVID, we had to transition to remote options to do that and we’re still doing that. We’re now going to begin doing those monthly instead of quarterly. To your question about the faith-based community, yes, what we’re trying to do is ensure that we’re reaching out to as many people as possible, to really break the stigma about talking about domestic violence, to provide resources, to help people understand that they’re not alone.
We have such a large faith-based community that it’s really important that we reach out to them and ask for their help in reaching out to their members, to relay these messages, to provide them the resources that they need. That’s one of the ways we’re trying to get out there, but the commission on its own also has its efforts collectively to reach out to the community. We’re not doing that through Facebook Live.
Justin: Is it all county or city-funded, is there a fundraising 5O1c3 arm to it?
Monique: Most of our initiatives have been funded by the City of San Antonio. We have had some initiatives also funded by the County. We’re really grateful for both of their support. The City of San Antonio put $3 million towards our strategies and that was after COVID hit. The County has also put significant dollars. They recently announced a million-dollar allocation to several of our strategies. We’re going to be getting some civil family violence staff for the civil district courts.
They funded an additional civil prosecutor for the protective orders, two more on the criminal side. We have formed a nonprofit, in the event that we need to raise money for some of our other strategies but really UHS has been a huge partner as well in terms of funding. They have funded a huge communications campaign and that’s through the healthcare committee that’s co-chaired by George Hernandez with UHS and Jelynne Burley with Center for Health Care Services.
They’ve put a significant amount of money into this effort. We have grants that are funding new positions, SAPD just got 25 new detective positions. The Family Justice Center has four or five additional new positions through grants that we’ve helped them obtain. Anywhere we can find the money, we’re asking for it. We’re trying to get it and we’re building this patchwork approach to really make it a true public private partnership.
Justin: It kind of brings me back to your previous statement on coronation. Is there something different for your involvement on this since it’s a county project that allows you to be part of that?
Monique: I don’t solicit funds for any of our initiatives. As a judge, I’m able to participate in things like this that pertain to the justice system. My role in this and the creation of the commission by Judge Sekais’ court order created it specifically for the purpose to assist the courts. Let’s say with domestic violence, and it has grown into various other committees that are on their own finding funding for their specific initiatives. The only thing that I have asked for money for is from the county for funding for civil positions on the civil side.
We really, really want to get to the point of having a domestic violence court on the civil side. We’re not quite there yet, but we were able to receive funding for some social workers, a compliance officer, and some support-and-management staff. We’re really stepping up our approach to domestic violence on the civil side. Things like that are okay, but it’s a good question. I do have to draw a line.
Justin: Are there other counties or cities that you are trying to emulate, that has been successful with this sort of model?
Monique: We’re really looking across the nation. We’re very fortunate to have a dedicated national consultant to our efforts, who works for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, who’s worked with communities all across the nation on, you name it, everything that we’re working on. He’s helped us connect with other communities here in Texas. We do have some others that we look to, for example, on the firearm-transfer initiative, there’s already a process in place in Houston, El Paso, Austin, Dallas. We’re trying to emulate those best practices here for us in Bexar County.
We’ll be announcing that pretty soon in the next couple of months. Nationally, some other models are Seattle, the Forge Louisiana, is also well known for their process on firearm transfer. The makeup of this collaboration is a best practice for making sure that you actually implement change in a community on domestic violence. Bringing people together in this collaborative fashion, through this community collaboration is a well-known practice that has a success rate in other communities and that’s what we’re trying to emulate here.
Justin: The website is ccdv.org and you’ll have a ton of information mostly about San Antonio. I was just going through it, it’s interesting to see how by zip code the incidents, I would say of reported domestic violence are kind of starkly different. Is the commission really looking at it from that kind of level, or are we at a city level right now, or are certain neighborhoods and zip codes getting more attention than others?
Monique: The work that we’re doing is more comprehensive and you’re right that we do see more zip codes that have a higher incidence of domestic violence. That’s because domestic violence increases in times of stress, it increases with financial stressors or other stressors and you tend to see that in areas of low socioeconomic status. However, we do have to caution that domestic violence does not discriminate. We also see it in higher socioeconomic-status neighborhoods. We see it everywhere, but it happens to be more prevalent in some areas.
For some of our initiatives, for example, the City of San Antonio has been working on implementing this Triple P Parenting Program. One of the strategies is providing education to parents within schools on domestic violence. Some of those pilot programs are being implemented in school districts with lower socioeconomic statuses.
That’s where we see that there may be a little bit more focus on those areas right now, but the work that we’re doing is much more comprehensive in nature because we strongly believe that it’s something that needs to be addressed across all zip codes.
Justin: Has there been any good data come out during COVID? Everybody knows stress has increased, people have lost their jobs, incidents of suicide and violence best everybody can tell have gone up precipitously. Has Bexar County kicked out any data yet on that, or is it still being compiled?
Monique: It’s being compiled every month. We don’t have a really good sense yet of what the impact of COVID is on our community. The data is really hard to evaluate because when we’re looking at data, we’re looking at data that we receive from law enforcement agencies, which necessarily leaves out all of the people that are too scared to reach out to law enforcement or never do. It’s the most underreported crime. In Bexar County, by October of last year, we already had more domestic-violence murders than we had the year prior.
Monique: We do believe that there has been an increase in part potentially caused by the stay-at-home orders. People are more often at home with their abusers with increased stressors. We think that, that is part of the reason but it’s too early to really evaluate the long-term impact of COVID for our community.
I will say that worldwide, domestic violence has increased as a result of COVID, calls have increased, deaths have increased. I know in France there was a 30% increase in domestic violence since the March stay-at-home orders.
That’s roughly what we have seen worldwide is somewhere between 20 and 30% in nations that are tracking those numbers. It’s certainly not getting better right now and we’re trying to adjust the work that we’re doing, to make sure that we’re mindful of all of the changes that have come about as a result of COVID. For example, we’ve had PSAs running for the last several months making sure people know all of the different options they can get help while they’re at home.
You can apply for a protective order online now through the Family Justice Center, you can text 911 if you need help. Everyone is offering online and virtual services. The family violence-prevention services, the shelter provides free counseling and all sorts of things that I’m happy to give you their contact information. We’re trying to shift to that to make sure people know that that help is out there, and that they’re not alone.
Justin: I went to your website and there’s a pop-up that basically says your data can be tracked. It just seems like that’s for people that maybe they’ve got intimate partner who’s going to go check their search history. It was a little alarming to see that. At first, I thought it was a cookies thing and then I read it and thought, “Whoa”. You all have a very detailed approach to a very unique problem that seems to be catching a lot of things that most people wouldn’t think about.
Monique: You’re absolutely right. That’s the purpose of that pop-up because that is a problem. That’s the benefit of having all of these thought leaders and stakeholders in domestic violence, finally sitting at one table together, talking about all of these issues and identifying how we can across different sectors, be really mindful, make sure that we’re keeping all of those things at the forefront of our minds.
That when you provide resources to a victim and they’re looking for it online, their offender might be one of those that stocks what they’re doing on social media, or their web history. We want to be sure that someone’s on the website, they can quickly exit from the site and it actually redirects them to a completely other different page. If an offender walks into the room, they don’t know that they were looking at a domestic violence website. That’s something that you’ll commonly see on other domestic violence websites as well.
Justin: I haven’t visited many of them but I was looking at it. It was pretty surprising to me. You’ve got obviously a passion for this community. You run for office [unintelligible 00:40:00], you’re volunteering your time on that. It’s pretty rare we get people that are born and raised in San Antonio. Just general observations, what are some of the big things that you have seen change about this community, really in your adult time which you have a better appreciation for what’s going on?
Monique: Besides the landscape, I just feel like there’s– And what I mentioned before, just this new appreciation for the old in San Antonio. I don’t think much has changed about this city. This has always been the cliché, it’s in a small-town city even though we’re the seventh largest city in the nation. That’s what I love about San Antonio, is the people, the character, the community doesn’t change.
We have really good people here. It’s a friendly community. It’s a community that really supports your ability to succeed when you’re born and raised here, or anyone that comes here. It’s a community where you can really rise to the top, if you put the work into it, because everyone is so friendly and willing to help. While the landscape has changed and the River Walk has changed, I don’t think much else about it has changed, and that’s why I love it here and while I continue to love it here and will be here for quite a long time.
Justin: I would say you’re a fairly progressive thinker. What are some of the things you hope to see San Antonio accomplish or become over the next 10 or 15 years?
Monique: Well, without commenting on issues [chuckles], I’d like to see us be a community that is very aware of our environment, that takes additional steps to protect it. I think that we have done a fairly good job of that. I’d like to see it be more walkable, be more encouraging again to that end goal of being able to enjoy it without a vehicle like I have one day.
I want it to be a good city for my children, for our children’s children to live in and that’s a safe city both environmentally and otherwise. I think we’re taking a step in the right direction across the board though and I’m really proud of a lot of the leadership that we have seen that has taken us to where we are today. There’s a lot of work to do but I think we’re definitely going in the right direction.
Justin: I’ve had a lot of people on here to talk about a lot of things, but recently a lot of the ongoing discussions have been about, “How do we get higher-paying jobs into this community?” It’s just really been interesting even some of the people that are the most informed, it’s one of those– It’s the white whale. It seems to have alluded us for a long time.
Monique: That’s a really great point. We are very economically segregated and I would like to see that change. That’s a big tall order. I’d like to see more equity in our community, more opportunity for folks that haven’t been as fortunate as I have with the opportunities that I’ve been blessed with. That’s a huge thing and that really has an impact disproportionately on women.
I used to serve on the mayor’s commission for the status of women who commissioned a report not too long ago, that broke down the disproportionate impact of that economic segregation on women in our community. That directly ties to domestic violence as well, increases in domestic violence as a result of that. I would like to see us continue to make more steps towards equity. I’ve enjoyed watching Mayor, Ron Nuremberg take some of those steps in that direction as well. That’s something that we need to continue doing.
Justin: For any of our listeners who think, “I’d like to run for office one day” or “I want to be more involved” you’re one of the most involved people I know in this city which– It is a weird question. You think, “I would just get involved” but it’s really not that easy. What is your advice for people that want to be more involved and give back to the community in a more meaningful way?
Monique: I think first identifying what matters to you and what you want to make an impact on is the first step. The next step is identifying individuals, leaders in our community that are already working on those issues. Those can be organizations, they can be elected officials. If you don’t know where to start, your elected officials are actually a great place to start, they’re great resource. Our legislators and our council members, they really have insight into all of the different groups and people that are working on every issue that you can imagine. If you don’t know where to start, I would recommend calling your city council members’ office or your state-house representatives, or your congress members’ office. That’s a really good place to start. They’re often very helpful in terms of directing you towards groups that work on particular issues.
Then just start going to meetings, get involved, introduce yourself, get a feel for those groups or those leaders and see if it really is a good fit for you. That will open so many doors for you just being present, making the time to find out where to go and to just show up, is really the hardest part about it and it will open every other door that you need from there. That’s what I was able to do and I’ve watched so many other people really flourish in this community by taking that approach. That’s what I would recommend.
Justin: I told you what the timeline would be. I’ve been ending all of these previously last year. I would say what my top three guests were, but now I’m asking people, if you were in my shoes, who were people that you would want to interview from San Antonio? Coach Pop’s always number one. He’ll never do it, but I’m going to keep saying it.
Monique: Oh, man. Coach Pop has to be everybody’s number one I think. Let’s see, I would like to hear from some of the younger leaders of the movements that we have seen in San Antonio lately. There’s so much talent here in like the next generations underneath us that I’d be really interested to tap into those folks. I will say one of my personal favorites that I’d love to see on the show is Hannah Beck. This was my former campaign manager and just became the Interim Executive Director for the Texas Democratic Party.
Justin: I didn’t know that.
Monique: On top of that, she formed Move San Antonio, that’s now become Move Texas.
Justin: Drew Galloway was a guest?
Monique: I’m sorry?
Justin: Drew Galloway was a guest?
Monique: That’s right. [crosstalk]
Justin: I’ll reach out to Hannah. We emailed not that long ago about something, she reached out. Is she in the running to be the ED or is she just Interim?
Monique: She is the Interim ED now. I guess that’s considered being in the running for the ED, so she stepped into that role and then, election season is coming up. People are going to start running again soon, so maybe having some of the folks that are running for office soon. I know some of my colleagues like Judge Meredith Alvarez would love to come on and talk to you. I’m sure about her upcoming election too.
Justin: Brockhouse was supposed to come on and I wanted to get him on before he announced, and he just kept counseling. I don’t think I’m going to get him.
Monique: I’m sorry.
Justine: Next time.[laughter]
By the way, have you watched his podcast?
Monique: I did not know he had a podcast.
Justine: It’s called The BrockCast. Whatever, if you like him politically, but it’s a pretty good name for a podcast, The BrockCast
Monique: It’s catchy I can’t blame him.
Justin: You should take a look at it and sit tight, this is going to do it for this episode. Judge, thank you so much for doing this. Really, it was a lot of great information because I’ve seen this pop up on social media, I’ve seen articles, San Antonio report but I really never got my hands around it until today. I appreciate you talking to us.
Monique: Thank you for the opportunity Justin.
Justin: Just sit tight. Let me close all this down.
[00:48:37] [END OF AUDIO]