A grassroots group is criticizing Fort Worth leaders for not doing enough to condemn recent hate speech in the city.
After a banner was hung declaring “deport them all” from a bridge in a heavily Hispanic area and fliers were posted to fire hydrants, council members should have used their official capacity to condemn the incidents and educate the public about hate speech, members of United Fort Worth said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Mayor Betsy Price and other city leaders contend officials didn’t want to legitimize those who propagate hate by drawing attention to it.
“We don’t want to be the platform for a hate group,” Price said Wednesday. “It’s outrageous, it’s awful.”
Members of United Fort Worth said they believe silence publicly on the banner and fliers “gives people who make these statements oxygen.”
The banner was promptly removed by residents. Patriot Front, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center described as Neo-Nazi, took credit for the incident involving fliers.
Jessica Ramirez, whose father was deported in 2014, told council members the banner brought back painful memories and had a powerful impact in her community.
“The banner was trigger to me, and I’m an adult. I don’t even want to know what that would do to a child,” she said. “The fact that none of you said anything really infuriates me.”
Price and at least two council members did make statements regarding the banners, but not with official city communications.
The mayor issued a statement to Telemundo following the the appearance of the banner, which was sent directly to members of United Fort Worth.
“It’s an outrage,” Price’s statement read. “We would’ve taken it down had the community not done so, because that is not Fort Worth. We are a compassionate city that celebrates our diversity and everyone who lives here.”
District 9 Councilwoman Ann Zedeh Oct. 9 posted on her official Facebook page condemning “ all hatred, and racial intolerance in particular.”
“While I completely condemn actions like some of those which have happened recently, I understand that groups that post racist literature in public do so to create publicity for themselves and raise awareness of their organizations and I am disinclined to do anything that will help them achieve their desired ends,” she wrote.
Carlos Flores, who represents District 2, said on his personal Facebook on Oct. 10 that the banner “sent a terribly offensive and misguided message.”
“I condemn this and any act that promotes hatred and ignorance,” he said.
Members of United Fort Worth said Facebook posts weren’t enough.
“By not saying anything, you’re telling me and my community that you don’t care,” Ramirez said.
Vincent Simon, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said he is used to armed protesters outside the mosque where he worships, but he expected a “palpable” response from city leaders.
“This is not the Fort Worth I grew up in,” he said. “I see this happening in communities of color, women, homeless people. At some point you got to say the line is drawn and things have to be stopped.”
Price said Wednesday the city traditionally wouldn’t have put out a blanket statement.
“We made it clearly known we don’t stand for this, and we asked the police to take appropriate action,” she said. “We want everyone in Fort Worth to feel safe and secure.”
Flores said he understood United Fort Worth’s wishes, but that any response should not draw undue attention to the wrong people. Instead he said the response should be constructive and involve direct dialogue with residents.
“I don’t think we as city or council shied away from it,” Flores said, adding that direct contact residents was more constructive than a blanket statement. “Collectively we didn’t like what was going on, but the focus is making sure it doesn’t happen again.”