Austin reports increase of hate crimes, civil rights violations in 2021

Leila Saidane, Senior News Reporter

The City of Austin reported a total of 28 hate crimes in 2021, an increase from 24 in 2020 and 12 in 2019, reflecting a portion of the increase in bias and discrimination against marginalized communities.

The Texas Hate Crimes Act defines a hate crime as any crime motivated by prejudice, hatred, or advocacy of violence. If a prosecutor can determine violence taken against a person or property is motivated by hatred or bias based on a characteristic of the victim, offenders face a harsher sentence. Hate crime statistics do not include rates of hate bias, discrimination or other civil rights violations. An individual being denied service at a bar based on race, national origin or sexuality, for example, is a civil rights violation but not a hate crime, said Carol Johnson, Austin’s Civil Rights Officer.

“I think these things have been happening all along,” Johnson said. “People aren’t as open to talk about those things a lot of times, and I think people are starting to step up and really be more vocal about their experiences. We know that a lot of crimes go underreported. Sometimes it’s (due to) mistrust of police or it’s mistrust of government or mistrust of institutions and the barriers that have historically been placed.”

Last year, APD reported four antisemitic hate crimes. But hate crimes only represent a fraction of discrimination and bias individuals face, such as the 44 antisemitic incidents the Anti-Defamation League reported in Austin in 2021. Neo-Nazi campaigns, distribution of hateful flyers and signs and verbal attacks are examples of incidents that may still be within the margins of the law, said Dulce Castañeda, assistant regional director of ADL Austin. 

ADL reported a total of 2,717 antisemitic incidents in 2021, the highest number reported since 1979. 

“People really see others as just ‘others’ and refuse to engage with people from other cultures and backgrounds,” Castañeda said. “We’re just seeing this polarization of society. If you’re seeing hateful messages, it’s (best) not to propagate those messages or expand that further. If you’re receiving a flyer for events hateful in nature, take a picture and report it to us or report it to law enforcement. Throw it away; get rid of them.”

The ADL initiates programs like No Place for Hate in an effort to fight hatred and promote diversity in schools and handles complaints of discrimination, racism and antisemitism as well as monitors extremists and domestic terrorists to assist law enforcement.  

In February 2021, the City of Austin passed a resolution denouncing anti-government extremism, white supremacy, racism, antisemitism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-LGBTQ+ hate, ableism and other bias-motivated violence. The resolution also condemned extremist conspiracy theories, misinformation and disinformation that may incite violence. 

In March 2021, the Austin-Travis County Hate Crimes Task Force released a statement in support of the Asian-American Pacific Islander community after the pandemic triggered an increase in anti-Asian hate bias. The Task Force, launched on December 15, 2010, includes representatives from over 40 city and county agencies, law enforcement and civil rights groups.

In an effort to educate the community about civil rights, the Office of Civil Rights is hosting several listening sessions on the CROWN Act, wage theft, tenants’ rights and hate crimes. Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN, is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination in places of employment or education due to individuals’ hair texture or use of protective hairstyles like braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.

“We want to make sure that we’re opening doors across the city, regardless of what that protected class basis be,” Johnson said. 

The city’s Office of Civil Rights hosted a workshop in September addressing anti-Asian sentiments and discrimination. The Combating Hate Violence in the AAPI Community workshop focused on teaching attendees about their civil rights, how to identify civil rights violations and hate crimes and how to report hate crimes, Johnson said.

Hate crimes or bias incidents can be reported to the Office of Civil Rights, the Austin Police Department, the Austin Police Safe Place Initiative, Consulado General de México En Austin, ADL and the Austin/Travis County Hate Crimes Task Force.