AUSTIN, Texas - The City of Austin is making some changes in how it responds to hate-related incidents. It comes amid a new warning about anti-Semitic flyers, and one year after a devastating arson attack on an Austin synagogue.
"Here in Austin, city officials estimate we've seen a 450% increase in anti-Semitic incidents," said Sharyn Vane, co-founder of the anti-hate organization ATXKind.
ATXKind issued a new alert Wednesday, stating in part: "This week has been targeted nationwide as a ‘flyering event by the white supremacist group that has previously dropped anti-Semitic flyers in several Austin areas."
"Nothing is worse than going out on your porch and finding a bag of rocks with a super hateful flier with a bunch of slurs. But we're trying to spread the word about here's some small action you can take," said Vane.
That includes being alert, and filing a report via 311 (either by phone or at ireportaustin.com) and the Anti-Defamation League. If it’s safe, snap a photo to include in the report, but don’t confront anyone, and do not post the flyer on social media.
"Hate speech is not just hate speech. Hate speech leads to violence," said Jackie Nirenberg, Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League in Austin.
Incidents have included anti-Semitic banners hung over Mopac, hateful graffiti at Anderson High School, then an arson attack at Congregation Beth Israel one year ago. An arrest was made, but the damage is done—$1 million worth.
"Unfortunately Beth Israel is still reeling from that incident. They still have no use of that sanctuary," said Nirenberg. "These things have very lasting consequences."
In light of all this, Austin leaders announced changes late Wednesday to how the city responds to hate-related incidents, including:
- Improving the reporting process: asking 311 callers more specific questions, making it easier to report online
- Launching a public anti-hate education campaign
- Providing special training for Austin Police and city officials
"These improvements that the city is making is going to benefit all communities who are victims of hate crime. So we think it's a great start, and we're looking forward to seeing more," said Vane.
Advocates say it’s important to have frank conversations, and not to tolerate hate in any form.
"There was a time when we didn’t want to give oxygen to these groups," said Nirenberg. "But we’ve gotten to a point where I think we’re at a tipping point, and we need our community to understand how dangerous this is becoming."