AUSTIN (KXAN) — Shalom Austin is speaking out after a banner with an antisemitic message was hung over a bridge on MoPac Saturday.
The nonprofit says the sign was on display at the Far West overpass in Central Austin.
“We understand this is extremely upsetting and unsettling,” Shalom Austin said in a letter Saturday. “We are always vigilant in monitoring anti-Semitic groups and work closely with law enforcement to share information about their activities.”
Pictures of the signs circulating on social media included photos of Austin police officers at the scene where the sign was. Austin police confirmed to KXAN that officers received a call about signs at that location and responded to the area.
“Let’s be clear. Hate and bigotry have absolutely no place in our community and certainly are not welcome in our police department,” said a Sunday statement from Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon. “Views shared by demonstrators during a protest action over the weekend were abhorrent and do not reflect our values.”
Chief Chacon said an APD supervisor who went to the scene Saturday got a protestor to cooperate with requests to make sure the area was safe.
“After enduring a barrage of hate speech and personal insults being hurled at them, officers who responded to the scene calmly and professionally carried out their duty to keep drivers on MoPac, bystanders and protesters safe while ensuring that the incident did not escalate and no laws were being broken,” continued his statement.
At the end of the conversation between APD and the protesters, Chief Chacon said the supervisor “declined a request for a handshake and instead opted for a fist-bump citing COVID-19 safety protocols.”
“A screen grab from the more than two-hour incident does not tell the whole story,” said Chacon. “I ask that our community not buy into the hate and images that have been taken out of context on social media.”
The letter sent by Shalom Austin said Austin Police Department was supportive and that representatives spoke with Chief Chacon Saturday.
The police union shared a statement from an Austin police officer who was at the scene. The officer, Austin Police Association says, is Jewish.
“You’re going to read a lot of emotions about APD’s responses to the incidents. I understand the frustration as much, if not more, than anyone because I was there on-duty,” Officer Chip Riley said in the post. “I was more of an object of their hatred because I was wearing a uniform ball cap that had the departmentally-approved LGBTQ patch on it. They didn’t know I am Jewish. They also made the assumption that I was gay due to the patch.”
“We upheld our oath to protect everyone’s constitutional rights, including those of people who would likely kill me and my family if they had the power to do so,” the post continued. “Just like we have always done. I’m proud of our response yesterday. We did what we could to protect everyone.”
This incident is not believed to be related to vandalism at Anderson High School, according to Shalom Austin, which included anti-semitic messaging and racist words and symbols that were painted on student parking spots.
Austin City Council members Alison Alter and Greg Casar and Mayor Steve Adler weighed in on the reported incidents on Twitter as well.
Shalom Austin went on to say that those responsible may be planning more appearances and events in the Austin area and across Texas in the days to come. “If you see them, interacting with them is not advised,” warned the letter to community members.
“We are also staying in close contact and coordinating with all local congregations and Jewish organizations to fight hate and antisemitism. We are grateful that our allies and colleagues have been reaching out with support.”
Read the full letter below:
Dear Community, We are writing to let you know of an antisemitic incident that took place earlier this afternoon on the Far West overpass of Mopac. A small group of individuals hung an antisemitic banner over Mopac. They have since left that area. At this time, this incident does not appear to be related to the appalling vandalism that occurred at Anderson High School this week.
We understand this is extremely upsetting and unsettling. We are always vigilant in monitoring antisemitic groups and work closely with law enforcement to share information about their activities. This group’s goal is to attract attention by being as offensive as possible. The Austin Police Department is aware, has been incredibly supportive, and has been carefully monitoring and observing the situation. We spoke tonight with Chief Joseph Chacon and he reaffirmed his support for our community. We understand they may have plans to conduct additional activities in Austin and elsewhere in Texas over the coming days. Given their recent activities, we expect this would involve demonstrating in a public space where they can get attention. If you see them, interacting with them is not advised.
We wanted to let you know that we continue to monitor the situation and work with our local law enforcement to keep our community safe. We are also staying in close contact and coordinating with all local congregations and Jewish organizations to fight hate and antisemitism.We are grateful that our allies and colleagues have been reaching out with support.
Rabbi Daniel A. Septimus
Shalom Austin Chief Executive Officer
ADL Austin Regional Director
Shalom Austin Security Director
Austin Jewish Academy
Congregation Agudas Achim
Congregation Beth Israel
Congregation Tiferet Israel
Temple Beth Shalom