Iowa City police have announced that an assault of a black University of Iowa freshman from Naperville, Illinois is being investigated as a hate crime.
The student, Marcus Owens, told police he was attacked Saturday night outside an Iowa City lounge by three men shouting racial slurs. Owens, 19, is a graduate of Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, Illinois. Investigators have since gathered information on potential suspects, who were described as three white males between the ages of 19 and 22.
Owens' uncle, Darrell Owens, said that the boy had gone out with his friends on Saturday after a week of studying for finals and writing term papers. "African-American kids are often portrayed as thugs with their pants hanging down. That is not this kid," says Owens. "I want the world to know what happened. It was a hate crime."
Lee Hermiston, a journalist for The Gazette, reports that the attack took place between 10 and 11 p.m. in an alley outside the lounge while Marcus was making a phone call. He was approached by an individual who yelled at him and struck him multiple times. When Marcus tried to defend himself, two other men joined in the attack while shouting racial epithets.
A bystander intervened, whereupon the assailants fled. Marcus, bruised and bloodied, was escorted back to his dorm. The next morning, he went to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for treatment. He was held overnight for observation before being released on Monday. He received 15 stitches in his lip.
According to his family, Marcus went to college to study business. He chose the University of Iowa because of its strong reputation in business and because it was not too far away from home. All of his family members expressed shock over the attack.
"You would think in 2016 things like this wouldn't happen anymore," Melvin Owens III, Marcus's brother said. "Given history and that people are creatures of habit, apparently not; it's just crazy."
Scores of Owens' peers at the University of Iowa took to social media to express outrage over the incident and concern about the safety of students of color. University statistics show that three percent of Iowa's 32,000 student body are African-Americans.
According to Suzanne Baker, a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, Iowa students learned about the alleged hate crime from a television station, not the university. They are demanding to know how the university intends to handle the issue. The university's interim public safety director, Lucy Wiederholt, said Marcus came to campus police late Monday to report the assault. As reported by The Chicago Sun Times, a dispatcher referred to him to Iowa City Police after learning the incident happened off-campus.
Iowa University President Bruce Harreld said he and the dean of students met with Marcus Owen and his family. "We are saddened and outraged by the horrible event that transpired Saturday evening. This kind of violence is unacceptable and will not be toleratedâ¦ Students have a right to feel safe on this campus," he said in a statement.