Misreporting and a university’s desire to stay away from scandal has left some University of Texas at Austin students feeling abandoned by their administration. Political science student and recent “bleach bomb” victim Bryan Davis said the university needs to take steps to prevent racially-charged attacks like these from happening in the future.
“Individuals who carry out these acts are trying to make minority students scared, so they know they can throw a harmless water balloon but still make a statement,” Davis said.
Only three days after a rally condemning these attacks and commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, more students were attacked in Austin’s West Campus, an area filled with sorority and fraternity houses, apartments, and other housing units primarily occupied by UT Austin students.
One late Saturday evening the weekend before last, two students — UT’s Alex Watson and another visiting student from Texas A&M University — were targets of “bleach balloon” attacks. There have even been other individuals coming forward as victims of attack. While it has not been confirmed the contents included bleach, these attacks are still believed to be part of the racially-charged assaults.
Bleach is a chemical used primarily to whiten clothes and makes a potentially derogatory statement when thrown at minorities. Minority students became the targets of these bleach-filled balloons, known as “bleach bombs” last year as they walked throughout West Campus. Racially-charged attacks like these put UT Austin in national headlines and prompted a march through the same residential area where Davis was attacked.
While some students defend the attacks and say they are not racially-charged, some victims have said racial epithets were yelled as the balloons were thrown.
In his most recent statement, Gregory Vincent, vice-president for diversity and community engagement, said that the bleach bomb thrown at Davis and previous victims might contain nothing more than water; however, for Davis and other concerned students, it doesn’t matter what the contents are – it is still an assault.
UT senior Reva Davis said the attacks are making her and other friends uncomfortable. She and other activists organized a rally on September 10 at UT’s campus to call attention to the attacks.
“Hopefully this rally will get people’s attention, raise awareness, and we hope the administration will make a formal statement,” Reva said. “These attacks are trying to make minorities feel uncomfortable and they need to stop.”
Davis was notified last Thursday by APD detectives that the August 28 story about the bleach bombings, published in the student-run Daily Texan, misreported and misquoted APD officials.
Public information officer Cpl. David Boyd was quoted in the story saying “the department is still waiting for the victim’s official statement.” In reality, Davis provided his statement on the day of the attack and allowed University of Texas Police Department to collect his clothing, even though in his statement to APD and the UT Dean of Students, Davis reported that the splash from the balloon only affected his leg and not his clothing.
“The quotes taken from Cpl. Boyd were concerning the incidents from last year, and had nothing to do with my case,” Davis said. “APD has reached out and assured me that they are doing everything they can, but I believe it’s up to the University to take the next steps.”
He added: “APD needs to make this clear that even if it is a water balloon, it is still an assault case, and the university needs to gauge their cultural diversity programs to situations and incidents that are actually happening to UT students today.”
Unless the lab results return with confirmed chemical residue, the case will be suspended because Davis did not see his attackers. Surveillance from the scene only shows Davis as the balloon hit the ground four to five feet away from him, but footage does not show the balcony from where it was thrown.
At the 50th anniversary rally for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Davis addressed the Austin crowd and made it clear he does not believe the dream has been achieved.
“I feel like UT has a chance to eradicate racially-charged attacks like these in the future, but the university needs to take it seriously and confront these acts in order to stop them from happening in our backyard,” Davis said. “Eventually prejudice like this can become a thing of the past if meaningful steps are taken and the administration doesn’t just try to distance itself from a scandal.”
“I would rather the case go cold from a dead end than public officials making quick and uninformed statements to hurriedly scoot the issue under the rug,” Davis wrote in his personal Op-Ed.
As of September 4, Davis’ case was declared open and on hold until lab results from the balloon material collected in the area are completed.