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Attack highlights racial tensions


By DI Staff | daily-iowan@uiowa.edu


Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 3.45.59 AMWhat started in a narrow, graffiti-lined alleyway outside the downtown bar Eden evolved into a news report from another state, a trending topic, and later, a hate-crime investigation.

Marcus Owens, a black freshman at the University of Iowa, was reportedly assaulted by three white males on the evening of April 30, sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. The assault, in which Owens says they spat racial slurs at him, resulted in 12 stitches on his lip and two chipped front teeth. The Iowa City police are investigating the assault as a hate crime; no suspects have yet been named.

Students from across campus, including the Black Hawkeyes, met Wednesday night in a closed session. Though their plans to address the issue, frustration is evident.

“I think the outrage that you are seeing from different people and students on social media is really just the frustration in this belief that in this day and age, that a student like Marcus, he is a good kid, and if you do research on his criminal background you come empty-handed, [could have this happen to him],” Owens’ uncle, Dwayne Owens, told The Daily Iowan.

Parts of the campus community were first made aware of the assault Tuesday night, as the ABC 7 station in Illinois reported Owens had been the victim of a hate crime. #ExplainIowa, a trending topic that called for UI officials to explain why no crime alert had been issued to the UI community, aided in spreading the news around campus.

By 1 a.m. Wednesday, UI officials responded on Twitter with a statement amid a flurry of accusations that the university was neglecting its students. The university released a crime alert roughly 10 hours later, after students heavily criticized the institution for not doing so. Officials said the crime alert was released after the UI police gathered information from the Iowa City police.

Hawk alerts are used in incidents where there is an “immediate” and “ongoing” threat, said Lucy Wiederholt, the interim assistant vice president for the UI police. This encompasses threats such as tornadoes and active shooters. Because this incident occurred on April 30 and the report was made to the law-enforcement agency on Monday, officials believed the threat had passed.

According to a timeline released by UI officials, around 10:45 p.m. Monday, Owens’ uncle told a dispatcher at the UI Department of Public safety that he wanted to file an assault report for something that had occurred downtown. He was referred to the Iowa City police because the incident had occurred off campus.

Weiderholdt said that is standard protocol.

“It eliminates having them retell the story more than once¯” she said. “At that time, as soon as we figured out it was downtown, we didn’t ask any additional questions.”

Since then, UI officials released a statement, calling it a “failure in protocol,” and they said they would work to improve reporting mechanisms in the future.

Owens’ family has not been as critical of the UI as the students on campus.

“They are only accountable from the moment that they knew, and from the time that they knew, they showed sincere interest and have had very open and honest dialogue with the family at this point,” Dwayne Owens said. “We’ve been pleased with the response that we got.”

The dean of students and staff, as well as UI President Bruce Harreld met with Owens and his family Wednesday morning. Harreld later accompanied Owens to the dentist.

This controversy comes just one day after a social-justice forum highlighted racial tensions on campus.


Full statement to the DI  from Bruce Harreld:

We will not tolerate anything but a safe and inclusive campus for students of all backgrounds. Marcus Owens and his family allowed me to spend the day with them, and I was humbled by their strength and desire to move forward. No one should feel that their race or any aspect of their identity makes them a target. This kind of violence is unacceptable and must be denounced by the entire community. 

If UI students were involved, they will be subject to disciplinary procedures under the student code of conduct. The outpouring of support from students, faculty, and staff shows that the University of Iowa is poised to address this difficult issue and will not put up with racist actions.

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