Recalling an event from his freshman year, when champagne bottles were hurled from a balcony at a black student while white students shouted racial slurs, Joshua Ellis described a hate crime data set released by Austin Police Department in late January as “sobering.”
“Even in the liberal safe havens like Austin, it’s not safe being black,” said Ellis, an African Diaspora studies senior. “There’s not a moment where you can rest easy.”
According to APD, 42 percent of hate crimes in Austin in 2018 — eight of the 19 total — were anti-black.
Eight percent of Austin’s population is black, according to the Census Bureau. Between 2000 and 2010, Austin’s black population dropped 5.4 percent, according to the Bureau.
Ellis said the disparity between the shrinking population and the high percentage of anti-black hate crimes is worrying.
“The dwindling black population still has to endure almost half of the hate crimes that are occurring,” Ellis said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as a criminal offense against a person or property motivated by an offender’s bias against a race, religion or disability, among other attributes. Austin reported 18 hate crimes in 2017, more than any other Texas city, according to the FBI’s most recent data set.
Jeannie Tomanetz, APD victim services counselor and member of the Hate Crimes Task Force, said APD does a better job of reporting hate crimes than other large cities around the state.
“We actually have somebody … who sits down at the computer and runs biased, hate-filled words through every police report written in our system, just to see if anything comes up,” Tomanetz said.
Along with reviewing every police report for signs of a hate crime, Tomanetz said APD has been building relationships with outside organizations such as the Austin Anti-Defamation League to catch hate crimes that aren’t reported directly to APD.
Ellis said while he appreciates the added infrastructure towards reporting hate crimes in Austin, he wants to see the reporting system become unnecessary.
“At the same time, while the system itself does deserve a pat on the back for being more robust, I think the focus should be less on how robust the system is,” Ellis said. Let’s make it so the system is obsolete.”
Chas Moore is the executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition, a black-led grassroots organization that focuses on local policy and social justice. Moore said he was sad the hate crime data was not surprising.
“As a black person, this city and the state as well are just not as liberal as people claim it to be,” Moore said. “Austin tries to wear the makeup of liberalism and inclusivity and that we all get along, but really underneath that is a lot of anti-blackness, a lot of racism, homophobia, xenophobia.”
Moore said the Austin community at large needs to be held responsible to call out casual racism, sexism and xenophobia.
“At the end of the day it’s us as a society,” Moore said. “(We are) letting these little things continue to go and grow and eventually they grow into the extreme of it, which is hate crimes and viciously attacking someone.”