Members of the Fort Worth City Council say they're concerned about several anti-immigration messages recently displayed in different parts of the city.
They plan to discuss the matter further during a work session Tuesday afternoon.
"I myself have been contacted by a lot of concerned citizens and wondered what our response was going to be," said Councilman Carlos Flores, who requested that the topic be added to the council's work session agenda. "For me it was sensible to get something definitive from our police department."
Earlier this month, a banner that said "Deport Them All" was draped from the Morningside Drive overpass that crosses Interstate 35W. That particular area of Fort Worth has a large Hispanic population.
Two days later, community members found flyers posted in four locations downtown, covered with messages such as "Reclaim America," "Better Dead Than Red," and "Not Stolen, Conquered."
Fort Worth police were notified about the banner, which was removed from the bridge by a group of concerned citizens.
Although pictures of the flyers were shared online and sent to local media, police said no one called them to file a report.
"What was frustrating for me to see is that not all these incidents were reported to police," said Flores. "While these shameful displays really hurt us and cause an emotional reaction, we need to keep our wits about us and do the correct thing -- first and foremost, report them to police. That way we can create a log and start tracking these incidents, so they can follow up and investigate."
Both police and the city attorney's office have noted that while defamatory, the messages themselves are protected free speech -- and do not meet the threshold for "hate speech" because they do not advocate violence or mention a particular race by name."
They say it is illegal, however, for anyone to post signs or flyers on public property like a bridge or lampost without expressed permission from the government agency that oversees them. Anyone caught doing so could be charged with a misdemeanor.
Police said they will work closely with TxDOT to ensure the prompt removal of any unauthorized signs hanging from bridges in the future. They're also encouraging anyone who sees questionable material displayed anywhere in the city to report it and let officers remove it.
"Part of the dismay is that this kind of thing doesn't happen in Fort Worth," said Flores. "But unfortunately, in this instance it has. So we're dealing with it in the best way that we know how."
The city's Task Force on Race & Culture also held a meeting this month to discuss the matter. Following that meeting, the group released the following statement:
"Fort Worth is striving to become a city that values diversity and inclusion. For the past year, the Task Force on Race and Culture has been working with residents to recommend strategies and actions that will reinforce these values by reducing racial and cultural disparities. The task force respects each person’s right to free speech, but considers recent anti-immigrant activity in our community -- including the placement of defamatory banners and fliers on public property – to be fundamentally incompatible with our core values and beliefs.
We encourage residents to report any activity that may target a segment of our community. If you see a hateful sign, banner, or flier, please call the Fort Worth Police Department at the non-emergency number, 817-392-4222, and say that you want to report a hate incident and request that an officer be sent to the scene. The officer will thus be able to document and remove the item if it is on city property and to initiate an appropriate report. We urge residents to allow the police to handle these situations and not to remove the sign, banner, or flier themselves. If you have already done so, however, please file an official police report anyway so the police will have a record of the incident. We are confident that the Fort Worth Police Department will respond swiftly and appropriately to these hate incidents.
When our community is faced with such hateful acts, it is essential that we pull together, declaring and reinforcing the fact that these groups do not represent our core values or our community. The stated vision of the task force is that Fort Worth will become a city that is inclusive, equitable, respectful, communal and compassionate. We must do everything we can to uphold our values and not allow any individual or group to target any segment of our community. We must unite at these times to make our vision a reality for our city."