An incendiary video posted Wednesday, June 3, which depicts a group of 2020 Westlake High School graduates hurling racial slurs at protesters in downtown Austin has triggered a response from west Austin school district officials.
“We are appalled by the conduct of these recent Westlake graduates. We do not condone their behavior or actions, which are not consistent with our beliefs, values and commitment to inclusivity,” said representatives of Eanes ISD in an official statement June 4.
The video has since been removed from Twitter, where it was posted, but Eanes ISD Superintendent Tom Leonard added additional commentary on the situation.
In a June 4 letter, Leonard reflected on what he called a significant nationwide movement concluding a school year not lacking in its own hurdles.
“Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us on many levels, but what we are seeing now is a different kind of challenge ... one that reinforces the importance of dialogue, listening and reflection,” he said.
Beyond the response from Leonard and EISD, other leaders and residents within the Lake Travis-Westlake community have been speaking out about recent events occurring locally that pertain to a growing worldwide movement seeking justice for the recent death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. Four police officers have been charged in the death of Floyd.
Leaders in Westlake, EISD, Bee Cave, Lakeway and Lake Travis ISD have all issued statements or spoken publicly about First Amendment rights, deliberate false flag campaigns that seem bent on creating chaos where none exists and a need to stand against hatred.
In August, Eanes ISD began the 2019-20 school year with a mission to encourage kindness throughout the community through a project created in collaboration with the Social-Emotional Learning team, called the “Green Glasses Initiative” in August.
The program encompassed a full year of lessons on empathy, inclusivity, respect and communication. Amid recent events, Leonard said he was struck by the significance of the initiative. Included in his June 4 letter was an excerpt pulled from a previous Green Glasses message.
“When it comes right down to it, I think all of us have a desire to be understood,” the excerpt stated. “The way we treat others is directly connected to our ability to understand another’s perspective or another’s emotions at any given moment.”
Leonard also expanded on the incident involving the WHS graduates, stating “insensitive social media posts by disrespectful individuals do not represent all that is good and caring and compassionate about our school district.”
But in western Travis County, Leonard was not the only area superintendent to comment on the ongoing global social and political protests.
As a former public school leader, Lake Travis ISD superintendent Brad Lancaster said in an official statement June 4 he has in the past often avoided publicly addressing social issues.
“I will admit that I have grappled with my role in this worldwide discourse,” Lancaster stated. “No reasonable person can view George Floyd’s death and not be sickened by those images.”
Despite previous hesitations toward social commentary through professional channels, Lancaster said he felt compelled to address Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. As a school district, LTISD has the opportunity to model what is right and wrong in the treatment of others, he said.
“Not only must we teach tolerance and civil discourse, we must ensure that our classrooms and school buildings are free of prejudice and discrimination of all kinds,” Lancaster wrote.
Following Lancaster’s statement, Lake Travis High School principal Gordon Butler took to social media June 5 to share his personal thoughts.
“In the midst of turmoil, I can point fingers and complain. That’s easy and it makes me feel better,” Butler wrote. “Instead, I’m choosing to forgive, educate myself, listen and collaboratively work with others on solving the problems.”
Local officials weight in
Along the western border of Hwy. 71 and further north up RM 620, community leaders in the Lake Travis area have also been responding publicly to the unrest. The messaging has from officials has also been informed by reactions and widespread online rumors on a local level.
The Bee Cave Police Department issued a statement on social media addressing apparent misinformation campaigns running rampant on various online platforms.
The BCPD stated June 4 it is aware of posts on Facebook, NextDoor and other social media outlets warning of possible looting and riots in the Hill Country Galleria and is working with area officials, including the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, to gather more information.
“We have not received any reports from ARIC indicating specific intelligence which identifies the Galleria or Bee Cave as targets,” the post continues, but also affirms the department has been ramping up patrols at locations rumored to be potential hot spots for looting and rioting. “Based on concerns of Bee Cave residents and business owners, we are bringing additional officers to patrol the retail centers of Bee Cave over the next few nights or until we believe they are no longer warranted.”
Bee Cave Police Chief Gary Miller confirmed June 5 that any reports of agitators or planned rioting or looting have born no incidents within his jurisdiction so far.
Members of the Lake Travis Community have also warned about the consequences of fanning the flames of false information via online platforms
Kim Ortiz, Hudson Bend resident and local business owner expressed concern related to the dangers of circulating unconfirmed looting rumors. She said she’s not worried about looting or rioting at her Hill Country Galleria-based business, but she is worried about the recent fear mongering.
Several galleria business owners heard rumors of potential looting only to rush to their businesses and find no signs of damage, she said, and added she confirmed with the galleria security team that no looting has occurred.
“When you start sharing misinformation without going to the source and asking ‘is this true?’ You’re just adding to the problem,” Ortiz said.
This misinformation is especially damaging for businesses already struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Ortiz.
Demonstrations in the Lake Travis area
Though concerns have been raised about potential looting and rioting in various locations within the Lake Travis area, peaceful protests have already taken place with no reported illegality occurring.
Lakeway Mayor Sandy Cox addressed the protests during a June 5 live broadcast, confirming the peaceful nature.
“I’m happy to say that in the city of Lakeway we’ve had two protests,” Cox said. “They have been peaceful, and I’m very thankful for that.”
From a management standpoint, the Lakeway Police Department has received the necessary training, according to Cox, and City Council has ensured that review boards and essential policies are in place so the department can continue to foster a strong relationship with the community.
“They are a real community police force. They are helping us in any which way that they can, and they are keeping us safe,” Cox said.
Cox encouraged civic engagement as a way to enact social change moving forward, and said voting, whether at the federal or local level, is the first step in initiating change.
“Voting is your voice,” Cox said.
The social movement in support of Black Lives Matter shows no sign of slowing in the near future, as protests continue to be planned nationwide through the weekend. The same remains true in the Lake Travis area, as protesters met at at RM 620 and RM 2222 on Friday evening, June 5.
The demonstration was the second event organized by Steiner Ranch residents Tonya Frederic and Amirta Adhikary, and the crowd of more than 100 people lined the street with homemade signs in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“A lot of people out here are eager to show their support for the Black community and Black Lives Matter,” Frederic said.
Plans for protests in western Travis County are scheduled into the near future as well. In Bee Cave, Miller said he has been in talks with local youth about a planned peaceful protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement scheduled to occur outside City Hall in the Hill Country Galleria Saturday, June 13.
“We support an individual’s right to free speech and protest,” Miller said. “We told them they are allowed to do it and we will provide them protection [along with] anyone else who needs it.”