By Ellen McGirt
Updated: March 22, 2018 2:54 PM ET

We now know much more about the Austin bombing suspect, a young man who documented his crimes in great detail in a video confession which has been described by interim Austin police chief Brian Manley as “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his life that led him to this point.”

But, as associate professor of Black Studies and Asian American studies at the University of Texas at Austin Eric Tang points out, we know much less about the people he terrorized. And this compounds the tragedy.

“Whatever the investigation yields, the bombings will forever feel like terror to the city’s longstanding African-American and Latino residents,” he begins in this opinion piece for The New York Times. “They are reminded once again that the narrative of Austin’s exceptionalism — the notion of the city as a politically progressive and countercultural oasis in the deep, conservative south — never really applied to them.”

The first three bombings took place in East Austin, a Jim Crow era creation as ugly as it was efficient. The first victim, Anthony Stephan House, lived in the city’s former “Negro District,” a centerpiece of the city’s 1928 plan to isolate black people into one locale and limit their access to schools, parks and other services. This “separate but equal” plan was complete by 1932, when the entire black population had been relocated.

House, a devoted parent, partner, and the head of the local homeowner’s association, was initially blamed by police for the bombing, a charge they later walked back.

Coincidentally, Tang has been conducting research exploring black flight from Austin, which is the only fast-growing city with a shrinking black population. He’d completed a survey in the East Austin neighborhood where one bomb later killed 17-year-old Draylen Mason and injured his mother, Shamika Wilson, and a separate package device injured Esperanza Herrera.

In their responses, residents measured the transformation of their community by the gradual disappearance of their neighborhood children and lamented the loss of long-time resident families who are being gentrified away by young, childless up-and-comers. It makes Draylen’s murder even more painful, but in a way, unsurprising. “For Draylen’s neighbors and others in the area, there was nothing coincidental about three bombs being planted and detonated on that side of the interstate,” says Tang. That their specific fears went unacknowledged was just another chapter in a long history of erasure and cultural violence, challenges of a far different sort.

“Fear, I know, crept into the hearts of all Austinites,” he writes. “But the events of this month have left this city’s African-Americans and Latinos wounded in ways that few others will ever truly know.”


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