Police at the University of Texas are investigating reports of black students being attacked with bleach-filled balloons in an off-campus neighborhood, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
According to ABC News, four students filed campus police reports on Monday saying they were targeted in incidents that occurred in June through September when the objects fell from high-rise balconies. The students came forward after University of Texas police reached out to them.
“We had heard at UT rumors of incidents that had happened, but no one had ever filed a report,” campus police spokeswoman Cindy Posey told ABC. “Our chief of police did his own research, found some things on Facebook, and heard about a couple of people who were hit by balloons.
“Chief Robert Dahlstrom reached out to the kids and said to them, ‘Why have you not filed a report?’ So [on Monday] four people came forward and filed reports.”
The American-Statesman spoke with two students who said they were targeted:
History senior Joshua Tang, who identifies himself as an African and Chinese American, said he was walking at 26th and Pearl streets on Aug. 24 when he felt a balloon fall from above his head and hit the sidewalk, staining his jeans. Tang said he smelled the bleach but did not see who dropped it.
Anthropology sophomore Taylor Carr, who identifies herself as black, said she was also hit by bleach balloons in two separate incidents at the same place as Tang.
“I was, of course, offended and thought, ‘What if this would have gotten in my eyes?’” Tang said. “For me, it spoke for a deeper racial and cultural issue we have at UT.”
Tang told the newspaper he did not initially come forward because he didn’t think anyone would be caught and “he feels police are unfriendly to social justice movements.” Carr said she was not injured in either incident.
“It’s very frustrating to know that it’s 2012 and that stuff like this still happens,” student Jaysen Runnels told KVUE-TV. Runnels, who is black, said a “bleach bomb” narrowly missed him and his roommate.
The incidents prompted students and community members to hold a campus demonstration and then march into the neighborhood in protest.
“We are finding that a lot of students do not know what is going on,” student Jamesha Chapple told campus news blog The Horn. “I wasn’t bleach-ballooned, but because it happened to people I care about in this community, I am marching with them.”
Still, not everyone believes students are being targeted because of their race. Student Sophie Weiner told the KVUE she’s witnessed objects being thrown from the buildings for the last three years.
“I see it from my balcony,” Pete Desai added. “I think it is just who ever happens to walk by at the time.”
Student Mackenzie Drake was similarly unsure: “I don’t know. My friend said they had gotten a banana thrown at them and someone said they had a water balloon with bleach thrown at them one time.”
Posey told ABC police have not been able to confirm the objects contained bleach but are investigating the reports. No suspects have been identified.
Officer Steve McCormick told KVUE that if the attacks were hate crimes, it could be difficult for prosecutors to prove. Throwing an object at someone from a balcony is still classified as assault.
“It can be difficult to prove because it is motivation. Motivation can be very subjective,” he said.