Shalom Austin and city leaders have vocalized concerns after an anti-Semitic banner reading "Vax the Jews" was placed over Mopac Saturday afternoon.
The sign, which is believed to be the work of Jon Minadeo II of the neo-nazi group labeled the "Goyim Defense League," was flanked by a small group of protestors above the Far West overpass in Central Austin. The display was located near Shalom Austin, a community center that says it is a "hub for Jewish life in Central Texas."
"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."
Austin police officers were made aware of the sign and reported to the scene Saturday afternoon. The department came under fire after photos circulated of an APD officer fist-bumping a protester. Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon released a statement that the photos were taken out of context and that the officer got a protester to comply with his requests to ensure the scene remained safe. The protester then requested a handshake to which the officer opted for a fist bump citing COVID-19 safety protocols.
"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."
The sign is not believed to be connected to racist and Anti-Semitic vandalism that was painted on student parking spaces at Anderson High School, according to the group.
Shalom Austin said that the "Goyim Defense League" appears to have plans for more activities in the area in the coming days. The neo-nazi group is known for conducting anti-Semitic protests, harassing Jewish organizations and spreading anti-Semitic propaganda on social media. In 2019, the group dressed as Hasidic Jews and said "they were 'sorry' that Jews lied about the Holocaust and were responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks," according to The Jerusalem Post. They have been linked to similar signs above overpasses in California, Colorado and Florida.
City leaders, including Chacon, Mayor Steve Adler and City Council members Greg Casar and Alison Alter spoke out about the attacks.
"Let's be clear. Hate and bigotry have absolutely no place in our community and certainly are not welcome in our police department," Chacon said. "Views shared by demonstrators during a protest action over the weekend were abhorrent and do not reflect our values."
"I am heartbroken to see antisemitic hatred in Austin, a welcoming and respectful place. Hatred of any kind has no place in our city. If you see or hear it, you should report it to ADL," Adler said on Twitter.
I am heartbroken to see antisemitic hatred in Austin, a welcoming and respectful place. Hatred of any kind has no place in our city. If you see or hear it, you should report it to @ADL at https://t.co/baFmvEIpjD
— Mayor Adler | Get vaccinated! (@MayorAdler) October 24, 2021
Shalom Austin said that the Austin Police Department will continue to monitor the situation and advise those who may see the group to not interact with protestors.
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Austin police have charged Kaitlin Marie Armstrong, a local cyclist, for the murder of Moriah "Mo" Wilson.
Wilson, a rising star in the gravel and mountain bike community, was found dead with gunshot wounds inside an East Austin home on the night of May 11 when she was in town for the weekend Gravel Locos race in Hico, Texas.
Police believe Wilson was having a relationship with a man Armstrong was also in a relationship with. The man, another gravel cyclist, Colin Strickland, has since issued a statement on the murder.
In his statement, he said he had a brief romantic relationship with Wilson in October 2021 before he resumed his relationship with Armstrong, but that he remained friends with Wilson. "There is no way to adequately express the regret and torture I feel about my proximity to this horrible crime. I am sorry, and I simply cannot make sense of this unfathomable tragedy.
NEW: Austin professional cyclist Colin Strickland has just released a statement about the murder of cyclist Moriah Wilson, clarifying his relationship with her and expressing “torture about my proximity to this horrible crime.” pic.twitter.com/KnIna3mWrE
— Tony Plohetski (@tplohetski) May 20, 2022
Wilson, a 25-year-old Vermont native living in Colorado, had won a slew of races becoming a fan favorite. She had just become a full-time racer this year.
Anyone with information on this crime can contact Austin police at 512-974-TIPS or contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 512-472-8477.
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Austin has added 24-hour security to the city-owned Pecan Gardens property, which will be converted into supportive housing for people exiting homelessness, after the former hotel was found with months of damage and vandalism May 5.
The building, which was broken into and stripped of copper and had people illegally sleeping inside of it, has been secured, Kelly said in a Friday press conference. Kelly said the city confirmed a measure to implement 24-hour security, including updates every 60 days until the property opens up as supportive housing.
"We cannot let this happen to any vacant city-owned property ever again," Kelly said. "This blatant act of disregard and criminal behavior will not be tolerated in our community."
The city bought the former hotel in August 2021 for $9.5 million with plans to renovate the property into a 78-unit supportive housing property. Those 55 or older that are experiencing chronic homelessness can qualify to live at the site once it is completed in late 2022-early 2023.
While the council was set to discuss a $4 million deal with Family Eldercare to begin converting the property Thursday, Kelly pulled the item for a later executive session due to security concerns. But the council did approve an item to authorize city leaders to begin negotiating other renovation contracts.
"I want to thank my colleagues for pumping the brakes on this contract and realizing that we owe the community not only an apology, but reassurance that the protection of the assets the city owns is vital to the success of achieving our intended goals," Kelly said.
When the building was found vandalized May 5, Kelly, who presides over the district containing the property, said damage included:
- Damage spanning all three floors of the building and is in nearly every room.
- The entire hotel was stripped of copper.
- Destroyed washers, dryers, air conditioners and electrical wiring.
- People sleeping at the hotel without permission.
On Tuesday, Austin’s Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Gray apologized and said there was no security due to a delay in processing the request.
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