The stickers that appeared on the windows of several East Austin businesses have sparked public outrage and condemnation from residents, lawmakers and activists, drawing the attention of the NAACP.
Rep. Dawnna Dukes, (D-Austin), quickly took to Facebook to express her anger and disbelief when a photo of the sticker on Rare Trends clothing store went viral online. Initially, Dukes also urged people not to shop at the clothing store until "'some explaining' is done."
"If the explanation is unbelievable…They need to be put out of business, ASAP."
Rare Trends, however, repeatedly stated that the store was a victim of vandalism. Caroline Gray, the store’s Director of Sales, Alejandra Cook, the store’s community manager, both said their employees had not noticed the stickers throughout the day because they were blocked by a window display. The store’s employees only became aware after complaints were phoned in.
“When we found out,” Grey said, “we took it down and are keeping it for the police. We understand they are investigating, but we have no idea who did it.”
Rare Trends also posted a photo of the derogatory sticker on their Facebook profile.
"We are victims of an outrageous vandalism act occurring on many East Austin businesses," The post read. "Rare Trends does not or will never discriminate against any person regardless of their age, ethnicity or religious beliefs."
Following that post, Dukes updated her comments on Rare Trends, saying that the store was vandalized. Dukes said she was following up with authorities to resolve the issue, "Collectively, our community will come together against this hateful, racist act."
Nelson Linder, the president of the NAACP, also paid a visit to Rare Trends after receiving a call from someone who had seen the poster. In a phone interview the Statesman, Linder referred to the stickers as “absolutely stupid” and added that the person or people responsible should be dealt with legally.
— Lisa Myer (@La_Raconteur) March 18, 2015
Meanwhile, other business owners swept up in the scandal have expressed concern, anger, and confusion over the source and reason of the stickers. The owner of Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop posted a picture of the sticker on the store’s window on Instagram.
"Today we were the victim of what I consider to be a hate crime against our family and staff at our Eastside location,” she wrote. “Our business was built on family and love and we will let that shine on."
One business owner suspected that the stickers were intended to serve as a response to the ongoing gentrification in East Austin. Indeed, in February Austin was identified by Forbes magazine as the fastest growing city in the country, with 150 people moving into the city every day. The city’s infrastructure has seen a drastic transformation, and so has its demographics. Between 1990 and 2000, the African American population in East Texas shrank from 80% to less than 20%.
Raul Alvarez, board president for the East Austin Conservancy, also contends that the stickers were a likely response to the community’s gentrification.
"I certainly share the concerns about the history and culture and affordability that’s being lost because of the rapid development, but our organization tends to focus on what it is we can do to preserve what makes East Austin unique and not focus on strategies that divide the community," He said to the Statesman.
Commenting on suspicions that the stickers may be a response to gentrification, Linder also said "Don’t put signs like that on people’s doors because you want to bring attention to your plight." He also added that the NAACP will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Other businesses that featured the stickers included El Chile Café y Cantina, Windmill Bicycles, and El Chilito Tacos y Café. In addition to the racially charged language, the stickers also featured a Austin city logo and claimed to be sponsored by a non-existent "City of Austin Contemporary Partition and Restoration Program." City officials have said that the use of the logo was unauthorized and confirmed that the businesses did not knowingly display the stickers.
No one has claimed responsibility for the stickers, but they appeared to be professionally printed, meaning that it may be possible to easily track down the culprits. Commenting on the artwork, Sarah Goeth, the co-owner of Windmill, wondered if the person responsible "did any research about who owns these businesses"
"Some of the businesses targeted are not even owned by white Caucasian people," she said.