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May 12 2017

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HATEFUL SPEECH

Video still frame courtesy Noria Alward.

Family in ‘shock’ after man shouts anti-Muslim epithets

By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
editor@portisabelsouthpadre.com

A family vacationing on South Padre Island is still reeling after they say a man harassed them by yelling anti-Muslim and sexually explicit epithets at them on the beach.

“Total shock” is how Ahmed, one member of the family, described how he feels days after the tirade. Ahmed asked that his last name not be used.

“I’ve never experienced racism like that. I’ve never experienced racism, period!” Ahmed said with emphasis. He and just over a dozen family members had come to South Padre Island to enjoy a family reunion, he said. As they gathered on the public beach behind the Pearl South Padre Hotel, two women approached them asking for help with a man who was yelling at them, he said. Ahmed’s brother tried to help the women by speaking to the man, and that’s when he turned his attention on Ahmed’s family.

Part of the ordeal was captured by another member of the family, Noria Alward, who posted a video on YouTube. The footage quickly went viral, with media outlets such as BuzzFeed, Al-Jazeera America and Now This picking up the story. As of press time, an edited version of the video on the Now This Facebook page had over 10 million views.

The man, later identified as Alexander Jennes Downing, 35, of Connecticut, can be seen in the video charging towards where the family is gathered, yelling at them about Sharia law. “You will never, ever stop my, my Christianity, from rising above your Sharia law! Your Sharia law doesn’t mean (expletive) to me!” Downing yells.

“ISIS doesn’t mean (expletive) to me, (expletive)!” he yells a little while later.

At several points he thumps on his chest with his fists, and points at the family while continuing to yell. At one point, he grabs at his shorts, appearing to grab his genitals before yelling a sexually explicit epithet several times. A member of Ahmed’s family can be heard exclaiming about Downing doing so in front of women and children.

Ahmed, a father of a child under the age of 10, says the incident was traumatic to his and his family’s children. “The things that my kid went through and saw. He’s a little kid, he doesn’t need to experience it,” Ahmed said. “The way I teach him is there is no difference between you and other people,” he said.

He paused for a moment, briefly overcome with emotion. “It’s a total shock to the whole family,” he said.
The insults didn’t stop with references to religion, however. Downing could also be heard yelling about President Donald Trump several times. “Donald Trump, (expletive)!” he shouts.

“Donald Trump got you, (expletive)!”

Later, he yells, “That’s my (expletive) president!” He also shouts that the United States is the greatest country in the world.

Those statements, in particular, struck a chord with Ahmed, who remarked that what Downing shouted was un-American.

The family called police and also notified hotel staff that they had been involved in an altercation.

When South Padre Island police initially arrived, Downing was not in sight. “Officers got a call about a subject acting irate and belligerent and so they showed up, they couldn’t find the subject,” Chief of Police Randy Smith said Wednesday. “A little while later the guy came back out and caused another disturbance over near the pool area,” he said.

Officers arrested Downing on a public intoxication charge and transported him to the city jail, which is a short stay facility, Smith said. He bonded out the following day.

Asked if additional charges would be filed in relation to the incident on the beach, the chief said that would be likely be dependent on other factors. “If somebody that was affected that day wants to file additional charges they need to contact our agency so we can review it with the DA’s office,” Smith said.

“It just depends on what elements all fit and what the person, how the person was exactly offended,” he said.
He condemned the actions seen in the video, though. “We don’t tolerate anything at all here that could make our visitors and citizens offended,” Smith said. “If somebody else had an additional concern, they can always bring that to us and we can review that on a case by case basis.”

In comments on social media, members of the family thanked the police for their quick response, but Ahmed said he wished the hotel had done more. “They basically told me there’s nothing they can do,” he said.

The hotel disputes that, saying they were never made aware of the nature of the altercation. “We were not aware of that incident at all. It was brought to our attention that there was an incident on the beach,” said Rene Valdez, director of sales and marketing for the Pearl South Padre.

He says the family told staff an argument had taken place, but not the details of the argument.

When Downing returned to the hotel the following morning, Ahmed saw him in the lobby and identified him to hotel staff. Valdez said staff then asked Downing to leave. He was allowed to pack up his things and leave, Valdez said. Downing was not a registered guest of the hotel, but was staying in a room with a registered guest.

Valdez, too, condemned the beach incident. “We don’t condone any of that type of rhetoric,” he said, but added that the incident occurred outside hotel property, on the public beach.“We do not condone these actions in any way and we find them intolerable and inexcusable,” he said, reading from a statement.

Ahmed is still shaken from the incident. “I’ve never had to deal with this. I was telling my brother earlier today, this changed me,” he said. But he added that he and his family will overcome the negativity from the incident thanks in large part to bystanders who came to his family’s assistance, as well as through words of encouragement left for the family on social media. “Those people will (help us) overcome this incident,” he said.

“This incident will not take over us because we’re surrounded by people that are a lot better than this guy.”

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated.

Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.

Permanent link to this article: http://portisabelsouthpadre.com/2017/05/12/hateful-speech/

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