Austin launches education and outreach initiative targeting hate crimes

Austin launches education and outreach initiative targeting hate crimes

Photo by ATXN

Tuesday, July 25, 2023 by Nina Hernandez

The city of Austin last week launched the We All Belong Anti-Hate Initiative, an education and outreach campaign intended as a response to a string of hate crime incidents reported across the city.

A group of leaders from the city, Travis County and other parts of the community gathered at a Friday morning news conference to discuss the initiative. The group included City Council Member Alison Alter, who authored a budget amendment to initiate the program after a string of incidents motivated by hate occurred in her District 10.

Assistant City Manager Veronica Briseño said any citizen who sees or experiences an act of hate should report it as an immediate crime or threat and call 911. In the case of a nonemergency, residents can visit to file an incident report with ADL Austin. Incidents are defined as acts that are not crimes but still of concern, such as bullying.

“We All Belong is much more than a slogan,” Briseño said. “It is a bold and clear affirmation that the city is committed to ensuring that Austin remains a place where diversity is celebrated and hate is not tolerated.”

The work on the project began several months ago. The city gathered a “diverse cross section” of Austin residents to learn how bias-motivated acts of hate affected how safe they felt in their neighborhoods.

“We learned in general people feel safe, but there are disparities across districts and demographic groups with some feeling less (so) than others,” Briseño said. “As a community, we are willing to report hate crimes and incidents, but when it comes to awareness of tools and resources to do so, there is room for improvement.”

The survey showed the city has work to do to increase the community’s level of trust in its commitment to responding to these acts of hate and ability to foster a community where those incidents do not happen.

“The We All Belong initiative is a step towards building that sense of trust,” Briseño said.

The initiative’s website provides streamlined access to resources for reporting hate crimes and incidents. It also provides an interactive data experience that allows users to view where hate crimes have been reported in the city, the types of bias motivating those crimes and community sentiment about hate crimes.

The site also includes links to community partners working to end hate in Austin.

In her remarks, Alter noted she is both a proud member of Congregation Beth Israel and of the Hate Crimes Task Force.

“I represent District 10, Central Northwest Austin, where many acts of hate have occurred in the last few years,” Alter said. “As a mother, I’ve had to pause and reflect on what it means that white supremacist vandalism occurred in the park where my children play, and (at) the temple where they celebrated their bar and bat mitzvahs in one of these acts of hate.”

Alter referenced several acts of hate, including the October 2021 fire set at Congregation Beth Israel. The 20-year-old man who ultimately pleaded guilty to the arson was linked to a journal that contained racist and antisemitic entries.

“We still have considerable work to do to improve our community’s response to hate, no matter the group being targeted,” Alter said. “We must continue to streamline our reporting process so that every Austinite knows how to report hate incidents, and we must improve our systems to monitor and interrupt patterns of hate before they escalate.”

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