How to tackle the recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Austin


Several anti-Semitic and racist incidents have taken place in Austin over the past month.

Hateful stickers were put in local parks, anti-Semitic banners were hung on a highway overpass, individuals were dodged online by a white supremacist group, and a fire was placed in an Austin synagogue.

“It has been a difficult and troubling time in Austin, given all of these incidents,” said Renee Lafair, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, who tracks and responds to anti-Semitism in the United States “We are trying to build a community here based on support and not on division and hatred. I don’t want to let those who try to disrupt and destabilize us win.

People have mobilized against these heinous acts, speaking out online and at public events. Local leaders and Austinites gathered at the State Capitol earlier this month to show solidarity against hate during a “Gathering for kindness. “

KUT spoke to Lafair and a free speech expert about what else can be done about the incidents.

What can you do if you see racist and anti-Semitic stickers or flyers in the city?

Lafair says ADL Austin encourages people who see any of these stickers or flyers to take a photo and report it to 311 and ADL.org/reportincident. Then remove the sticker or flyer.

“We collect the information because, as everyone knows, data drives politics,” she said. “So we collect data to look for trends, to see if there is something or coincidences or things that we need to know to help both researchers, policy makers and law enforcement on the best how to deal with these issues. “

Amy Kristin Sanders, associate professor of journalism and law at UT Austin, is also encouraging people to notify the city of such incidents and to remove the stickers. In addition to calling 311, you can report incidents in line.

“I think it’s really up to the communities to step up and make sure there is a wave of people saying, ‘We don’t tolerate this kind of talk. We recognize that you have the right to say it, but you are not welcome here, ”said Sanders.

Few types of speech are prohibited in the United States. The First Amendment protects language that many would consider racist and fanatic.

The language on these distributed materials may not per se be illegal, Sanders says, unless it reaches the level of threats or fighting words, which are not constitutionally protected.

“It would be very difficult for law enforcement to arrest and punish people who engage in what I would call untargeted anti-Semitism,” Sanders said. “In Austin, we saw examples of banners hanging from overpasses. This kind of speech, as offensive as it is, does not reach the level of fighting words. And therefore, it is protected by the First Amendment.

But putting stickers in public spaces or spray painting a hate message on a building is not protected.

“It’s vandalism; it’s not freedom of speech, ”Sanders said. “And so I think there are obligations that the city and the community should have in terms of removing stickers that are on public property and getting rid of those kinds of hate messages where possible, because your First Amendment right to free speech is not absolute. “

What can you do if you are being harassed by a hate group online?

KUT has seen reports of individuals speaking out against the recent incidents that have been broadcast online by a white supremacist group. (KUT chooses not to name the group.) Doxxing is when a person publicly discloses revealing information about someone, such as their name and where they live and work. This information is disseminated online without the victim’s permission.

Lafair encourages those targeted online to report such cases to ADL Austin, so that the organization can send them resources. She also recommends visiting OnlineSOS.org, which offers tips on how to mitigate online harassment, including a action plan if the doxxing happens to you.

Criminalizing people for doxxing can be difficult, Sanders said. Often times, the person posting the information uses details that are already publicly available online – essentially making the information available more readily available.

“That’s not to say it’s not harmful, or how threatening it can be,” Sanders said, setting the example of revealing where a child attends school. “I can only imagine how difficult that would be for a parent. But is it criminal? I am not sure that we would be able to successfully prosecute someone under these kinds of circumstances. “

This is not to say that a person who has been doxxed could never take legal action. For example, if private information, such as sex or health information, is published publicly, the victim may be able to sue. A person can also have legal recourse if the online behavior reaches the level of harassment or stalking. But Sanders said doxxing often doesn’t fall into this kind of illegal conduct.

“There have been a number of states that have tried to take action against some of this uncivil behavior online,” she said, “and because of the breadth of First Amendment protections, the Most of these attempts to punish this kind of speech or criminalize this kind of behavior have failed.

Sanders encourages people to report doxxing and harassment online to the private companies that operate websites where this type of behavior takes place. While the government may not be able to restrict a person’s speech online, private companies, like Facebook and Twitter, can.

“I think it can be very effective for individual users to report this kind of harassing behavior when it happens on Twitter or Facebook because those companies have the ability to take action,” she said. . “They have the ability to create spaces free from harassment. “

If a private business like a social media site is involved, Sanders said, people “have more room to act.” They can request that the position be abolished, although this does not guarantee that the company will comply.

“The onus shouldn’t be on the person who has had a doxx, but unfortunately you often have to try to find out where their information is and then try to sort through the layers of whoever is hosting the website to request that the content be deleted. different.

What does the Austin Police Department say about these situations?

If you see stickers or flyers in public spaces promoting hate groups or racist messages, you can make a non-urgent report by calling 311 or reporting it to iReportAustin.com.

“Once the reports are completed, they will be sent to the appropriate unit for investigation,” an APD spokesperson told KUT via email.

If the situation is ongoing (you see someone filing the documents), APD says to call 911.

In a doxxing situation, if you feel there is an immediate threat to your safety, APD says to call 911. If there is no immediate threat, call 311 or visit iReportAustin.com.


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