A small group of people reportedly hung an antisemitic banner over the Far West overpass on Mopac on Saturday while donning swastikas and giving Nazi salutes.
Context: Far West Boulevard is home to a large concentration of Austin's Jewish population, with the Shalom Austin Jewish Community Center and no fewer than four congregations nearby.
- The incident on Mopac comes days after vandalism at nearby Anderson High School, including swastikas and prejudiced words and symbols painted on student parking spots.
- A commenter on Reddit wrote Saturday, under the title "Nazis downtown?! WTF": "As I was walking downtown on 5th and Lavaca tonight, I saw a group of 'Nazis' who were wearing swastika shirts and other horrific antisemitic slogans that I can't bring myself to even type. They were calling themselves Nazis and 'offering hugs.'"
- Video posted on social media showed one Austin police officer trying to discourage the hugs "because of the current climate."
Shalom Austin's CEO Rabbi Daniel Septimus sent a letter around Saturday that said: "We understand this is extremely upsetting and unsettling, We are always vigilant in monitoring anti-Semitic groups and work closely with law enforcement to share information about their activities."
- Shalom Austin's letter, co-signed by the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, also said the incident was not believed to be related to the Anderson High School vandalism.
Sunday evening, Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said officers who responded to the overpass incident endured "a barrage of hate speech and personal insults being hurled at them."
- Responding to images on social media of an APD officer fist-bumping one of the antisemitic demonstrators at the overpass, Chacon said that the moment occurred after the officer managed to get demonstrators to to comply with his safety requests.
- The officer had "declined a request for a handshake and instead opted for a fist-bump citing COVID-19 safety protocols," Chacon said.
- "Hate and bigotry have absolutely no place in our community and certainly are not welcome in our police department," he added.
"I am heartbroken to see antisemitic hatred in Austin, a welcoming and respectful place," Mayor Steve Adler wrote on Twitter. "Hatred of any kind has no place in our city."
Of note: At least 12 incidents were investigated as hate crimes in Austin in 2019, including one as antisemitic.
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