Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is among members of the Congressional Black Caucus who’ve joined civil rights leaders in condemning a spate of deadly bombings in Austin — attacks that some are calling domestic terrorism with possible racial motivations.
On Monday, Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) — both senior members of the House Committee on Homeland Security — issued a joint statement with Congressional Black Caucus Chairman, Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA). The three lawmakers offered prayers and support for the victims and their families, while calling on officials to do what's necessary to help solve what they deemed “heinous acts” of violence.
Four separate bombings have rocked the Texas capital this month, killing two people and wounding four others. Mysterious package bombs killed two African American men from prominent local families who reportedly attended the same church: Anthony Stephan House was 39, while Draylen Mason was a 17-year-old musician. The teen’s mother was also injured. A third package bomb injured 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera, while a fourth bombing injured two White males.
On Tuesday, another package exploded at a Texas FedEx facility about an hour south of Austin. The package, which detonated while on an automated conveyor belt, was said to be bound for the city. No one was wounded in the incident.
Austin’s chief of police has characterized the fatal blasts’ as the machinations of a skilled “serial bomber.”
“To be clear, these bombings must be classified as ongoing terrorist attacks and should be investigated as such. Also, we need to understand if these attacks are ideologically or racially motivated,” the Congressional members said, noting fear across the city. “We cannot stand idly by while our communities are under attack. This has become a national security issue and the full investigative force of the federal government must be focused on stopping these attacks.”
The Democrats said they want Republican Congressional leadership to join them in insisting that Congress be briefed by the FBI on the matter this week.
“Work with us on developing concrete and common sense solutions to counter it. For too long we have focused only on certain sources of terrorism and violence while ignoring others,” said the statement.
According to Jackson Lee — who also serves on the Judiciary Subcommittee for Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations — local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are working “diligently” to identify the culprit(s) behind the attacks. Still, they need the public’s help.
“We must remain vigilant and proactive,” she added.
During the Civil Rights era, white supremacists devised bombs that terrorized and murdered African Americans in the deep south. In 1963, a blast inside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama left four young Black girls dead. While there's no evidence the deadly Austin attacks are targeting people of color, civil rights leaders have weighed in during this uneasy time.
“While the investigation will hopefully determine the motive of these attacks in the near future, there are ongoing safety concerns and members of the community are seeking answers as to what transpired,” said Rev. Al Sharpton. In a statement from NAN, the civil rights leader said his organization would continue to monitor the matter.
The NAACP issued a call for vigilance, diligence and caution to its membership and all communities across Austin.
“Due to the horrible acts of domestic terrorism now occurring in Austin, this is a time to be cautious about any packages being left at homes,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson in a statement.
He indicated the national organization has consulted with the Texas NAACP State President, Gary Bledsoe, and Austin's NAACP President, Nelson Linder, to help communities remain aware of potential dangers. The local branch has been working closely with authorities.
“We are urging our members to pay attention in their communities and to exercise caution when around any packages," said Linder. “We are asking parents to inform their youth to stay away from anything left on their doorsteps or at their homes. This is a time for us to communicate and keep in other informed regarding any type of strange behavior in our neighborhoods.”
As the investigations continue, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott has recently released $265,500 dollars in emergency funding for the Austin police department and the Texas Ranger Bomb Response Team. It will be used to purchase seven portable X-ray systems for use in bomb detection and responding to suspicious package investigations. These X-ray systems are used by bomb technicians on the scene of crimes and provide clear visual evidence for rapid assessment of a package’s safety.
“I want to ensure everyone in the Austin region and the entire state that Texas is committed to providing every resource necessary to make sure these crimes are solved as quickly as possible,” said Abbott in a statement.