Antisemitic banners displayed in Austin lead to efforts to improve city’s response to hate

Austin

(KXAN Photo/Chelsea Moreno)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Antisemitic signs that have made a spectacle in Austin the past few days have some community members concerned for their safety and looking for support.

City Council Member Alison Alter, who along with other leaders has spoken up about recent events, is now authoring a resolution condemning those acts and directing the city manager to improve Austin’s response to hate with the help and input of local community groups.

“The resolution will condemn acts of hate, anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry,” said a statement from Council Member Alter’s office. Support from other council members and city leaders is already pouring in.

Alter is also requesting a briefing on the city’s current protocols and legal options to respond to the signs that were on display at the Far West Boulevard overpass over MoPac first on Saturday, and again on Tuesday.

Local nonprofit leaders of Shalom Austin spoke out against the signs, wanting to reassure community members that police were notified and leaders were working closely with them.

“We understand this is extremely upsetting and unsettling,” said Shalom Austin’s Saturday statement. “We are always vigilant in monitoring antisemitic groups and work closely with law enforcement to share information about their activities.”

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon issued a statement then as well, speaking against the offensive signs and detailing his officers endured “a barrage of hate speech and personal insults,” while responding to that scene.

Fast forward to Tuesday at that same location, other hateful messages were hung on that overpass in the middle of rush hour traffic.

It’s important to note, less than a mile to the west of the overpass is Shalom Austin JCC, where three synagogues and Austin Jewish Academy all stand.

(Toggle through the map below to see closer)

The concern is heightened for the community even more on Wednesday, which marks three years since the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the U.S.

The mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh left 11 Jewish community members dead.

No trial date has been set for the suspect, as of this report.

As community members try to find support in one another, Austin city leaders are trying to offer as much support as they can while also not giving attention to what the group responsible for the hateful signs is aiming to draw attention to.

“Since it continues to happen I think that council should take a stand,” said Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, who reached out to Alter on Tuesday about how she can offer support. “We need to live in a society where we are accepting of each other.”

“It’s my responsibility to speak out against acts of hatred, racism, bigotry and antisemitism,” said Kelly. “I would hope as a leader that other community members would feel empowered to speak out against those acts as well.”

Austin City Council Members Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool, Paige Ellis, Pio Renteria, Ann Kitchen, Natasha Harper-Madison, Greg Casar and Vanessa Fuentes plan to support Alter’s resolution as well.

More details about the resolution are expected to be released in the coming days.

What are the rules for signs displayed on major roadways?

A city of Austin spokesperson said after checking with multiple departments, the city doesn’t regulate personal signs.

Information on the city of Austin’s website about sidewalks says banners or signs may not be hung off of or attached to bridges over roadways, but signs may be carried while walking on sidewalks over bridges.

Regarding the hateful signs on MoPac, since it is regulated by the Texas Department of Transportation, the city spokesperson directed us to them.

A spokesperson for Council Member Alter’s Office also directed KXAN to TxDOT, though they did share relevant state laws related to signage.

KXAN will update this story when we hear back from TxDOT.

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