AUSTIN, Texas — Protesters hung an antisemitic banner from a MoPac Expressway (Loop1) overpass on Saturday afternoon, and pictures of the “Vax the Jews” banner quickly made the rounds on social media. That banner was located not far from the Jewish Community Center in West Austin.
What also made the rounds on social media were pictures of an Austin police officer fist-bumping those protesters.
Following outcry, Austin Police Department Sheriff Joseph Chacon, who was permanently appointed to the position in September, took to social media and claimed those images don’t tell the whole story.
"A screen grab from the more than two-hour incident does not tell the whole story. I ask that our community not buy into the hate and images that have been taken out of context on social media,” Chacon wrote in a statement shared on Twitter. “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.
"A supervisor responded to the scene and got a protester to comply with his requests to ensure the scene remained safe. At the conclusion of the conversation, the responding supervisor declined a request for a handshake and instead opted for a fist-bump citing COVID-19 safety protocols.
"APD remains vigilant in its priority in keeping the Austin community safe and holding those who commit crimes accountable."
Social media response to Chacon’s explanation was largely negative. One respondent wrote, “Good heavens, dude, I came up with a better excuse than this and I wasn't even trying.”
Other Austin officials, including Mayor Steve Adler, denounced the protesters.
Following the protest, the nonprofit Shalom Austin released a statement which addresses the protest as well as Chacon’s response to it. It reads, in part:
“We understand this is extremely upsetting and unsettling. We are always vigilant in monitoring antisemitic groups and work closely with law enforcement to share information about their activities. This group’s goal is to attract attention by being as offensive as possible. The Austin Police Department is aware, has been incredibly supportive, and has been carefully monitoring and observing the situation. We spoke tonight with Chief Joseph Chacon and he reaffirmed his support for our community. We understand they may have plans to conduct additional activities in Austin and elsewhere in Texas over the coming days. Given their recent activities, we expect this would involve demonstrating in a public space where they can get attention. If you see them, interacting with them is not advised.”