Students Criticize Iowa's Response to Alleged Hate Crime

May 5, 2016

While police investigate an apparent hate crime against a black University of Iowa student who was severely beaten near campus Saturday night, university officials are working to explain how more than three days passed between the attack and the institution’s response.

The university first released a statement on Twitter early Wednesday, responding to concerned students using the hashtag #ExplainIowa. Iowa officials said they did not learn of the attack until Tuesday, when they were contacted by a television news station in Chicago, where the student’s family lives. “We are deeply disturbed by the incident and concerned for the student,” the university tweeted.

The 19-year-old victim told police that he was walking in an alley in downtown Iowa City, across the street from the university’s campus, when three men began punching him and yelling racial slurs. He suffered damage to his eye socket and lost most of his two front teeth. He was released from the hospital Monday evening, at which point he reported the crime to police. Iowa City police said the case is being investigated as a hate crime. The suspects were described as being three college-age white men.

After the university was contacted by ABC7 in Chicago, officials reached out to the local police department for more information and then met with the student and his family Wednesday morning. It was after the meeting -- 84 hours after the incident occurred, 36 hours after the crime was reported to police and 12 hours after the news report aired -- that the university released a campus crime alert about the attack, as required by federal crime-reporting laws.

The delay angered many students on campus, who took to Twitter to ask how a news station in Chicago learned of an alleged hate crime against a student before anyone on campus did. “How many black students must be a victim of a hate crime before an alert is sent out,” one student asked. Tweeted another: “Thanks, Chicago, for letting us know what happened a 10-minute walk from my room.”

Iowa officials originally defended the university's response, noting that an alert was issued as soon as officials learned enough information about the attack following the news station’s report. Later, the university released a more conciliatory statement, saying the victim’s family had actually first contacted campus police to report the incident, but they were directed instead to the Iowa City Police Department because the crime occurred off campus. If Iowa students were involved in the attack, the university added, “they will be subject to disciplinary procedures,” including suspension or expulsion.

“We later learned that the student did visit UI police late Monday night, but because the crime occurred off campus, he was directed to ICPD to file a report,” the university said. “This was intended to prevent the victim from having to share his story multiple times. However, we now recognize this as a failure in current UI protocol and will be working with many campus and community partners, including ICPD, to improve reporting mechanisms for the future.”

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