As a self-proclaimed bar fly, I've found myself downtown (usually on the popular bar-crawl area of 6th Street) every year during the Texas Relays since 2005. One year I think I got a piggy-back ride down the street from a 6' high jumper in Nikes. Last year I have a distinct memory of posing for pictures with a relay team from…well, somewhere, on the corner of 6th and Colorado, passing a Sprite bottle as a baton. During these times, I've always felt like a bit of an Austin ambassador, sending the athletes on their way, drawing maps to the best bars on receipts and offering breakfast hangover recommendations for the next day. After all, I'm a native and I used to run (not very fast) the 400M in high school. And on Texas Relay weekend, those are really the only credentials you need.
Highland Mall, apparently, did not get the memo. Known for its general disrepair and the first mall with a JCrew in Austin, Highland Mall just can't seem to get it right. On Saturday, Highland Mall closed its doors at 2 PM due to "security concerns" relating to the Relays. This reaction had some saying that "security concerns" was just a euphemism for "racism."
This morning I tuned into KVET's Bucky & Bob talk show, where they were interviewing Councilman Mike Martinez about various local issues -- the budget, the "no refusal" DUI blood draws -- when the subject of Texas Relays came up. Bob then read an email from a woman in San Antonio who had come to Austin for a "benefit," and found herself sitting in traffic at 2:53 AM, feeling "unsafe." The woman proclaimed she'd never return to Austin again on a weekend.
Bob wondered aloud "Where were the police?" and Councilman Martinez smartly responded that there was so little context to the woman's letter that it's hard to say if police were even necessary.
But I had to wonder this: Would she have felt unsafe if Highland Mall hadn't been closed? And if she'd felt unsafe, would she -- could she? -- have felt justified in writing a letter to a radio show about it?
Fear begets fear, and racism -- intentional or not -- begets racism. It's the "everyone else is doing it, so it's okay" mentality. By standing by while Highland Mall closed its doors, blanketing their closure with thinly-veiled security concerns, some woman from San Antonio then felt completely justified in her (likely unjustifiable) fears.
We should be careful about what we fear for.