AUSTIN (KXAN) — Photos taken of Austin police officers during a pro-police rally Sunday are gaining attention on social media, after some appear to show two men in the photo holding up white supremacist hand gestures.
The Wind Therapy Freedom Riders, or WTFrs, organized a “Re-fund the Police” rally Sunday, at the same time a separate group was holding a “Recall Mayor Adler” rally downtown. WTFrs President Luis Rodriguez says both groups mixed together as the afternoon went on, and toward the end members of his group asked officers patrolling across the street to take photos with them.
In some photos, officers can be seen standing with just WTFrs members. In other photos, more people appeared to join the group, holding signs and flags in support of President Donald Trump, as well as signs that say “Recall Adler” and a sign against City Council Member Greg Casar.
Additionally, a couple of people making the “OK” sign, which is a hand gesture that has become associated with white supremacy, appeared in a photo at one point, standing at the edge of the group. One was wearing black and yellow, which are colors known to be associated with the Proud Boys. That group has been identified as a far-right extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks “domestic hate groups and other extremists” in the United States.
Rodriguez says those men were not invited to the rally and were not a part of his group. He says they photobombed his group’s photo with officers, and that neither his members nor officers knew they’d stepped into the photo.
“We didn’t even know the Proud Boys, what they were, really. I had no clue, and then I didn’t know that an “okay” sign was somehow a white supremacy sign,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not a white supremacist, so therefore I wouldn’t know those things.”
Rodriguez’s group also recorded its rally on Facebook Live, in which officers could be seen refusing to take photos with local pro-police political candidates, because that violates APD policy.
Section 801.6 of APD’s General Orders states officers are not allowed to take photos in uniform that endorses or supports any political campaign or initiative, or any social issue or cause.
APD responded in a statement Tuesday — “APD is committed to fair, impartial and equitable treatment of all people. We do not justify or condone political activities in uniform. Given the politically charged climate we will be advising officers to exercise additional caution when engaging with the public to ensure the uniform isn’t used – either directly or inadvertently – to imply support or opposition of a particular perspective.”
The Austin Police Department tells KXAN it is investigating whether the officers who posed in photos with political signs broke policy. In a statement, Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said:
“365 days out of the year, our officers that are assigned to the Downtown Area Command are asked by citizens and tourists to take pictures with them. And 365 days out of the year, they do it because it helps to foster relationships within our community. If these officers were aware of the behavior of those on the fringe of the group, there is no doubt in my mind that they would not have participated in the picture. The Austin Police Association and our members, including the pictured officers, condemn any type of racist behavior.”