Bleach or no bleach, balloon attacks in West Campus cause controversy

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Government senior Bryan Davis was targeted by a balloon outside of the University Towers on Aug. 22. He believes he was targeted because of the color of his skin and speculates similar instances are more common that publicly perceived. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Updated for clarity on Sept. 5 at 3:49 pm: The contents of the balloon allegedly thrown at Davis has not yet been determined pending an investigation by the University and APD.

Government senior Bryan Davis said he used to be “flippant” toward issues of race and racism. That was before a water balloon was hurled at him outside the University Towers apartment complex — an assault, Davis says, that was motivated by the color of his skin. 

Davis soon became the central figure in a racially charged controversy. Tensions emerged as Davis’ own account of the incident conflicted with the police investigation, the University’s statements and news coverage, culminating in a student-led rally on campus. A second student reported a similar incident this past weekend, fueling the controversy.

On Aug. 22, Davis was on his way to a friend’s house when he heard an explosion and felt a “slight sting” on the skin of his right calf. 

“It felt like something small had jumped up and bit me,” Davis said, “I turned in the direction of the explosion. I saw the balloon and immediately went into a kind of shock. I was aware of the targeting and profiling of minorities in the area, so it all came together.”

After consulting with friends, Davis reported the incident to police, University officials and the media. Davis’ case garnered national attention, and Davis said he received several phone calls and emails from students saying they had been assaulted in similar ways. 

“Some said they were spit on,” Davis said. “Others said they had been assaulted with glass from broken bottles.”

Davis speculates that the number of students who have been subjected to these attacks is higher than what is publicly perceived, saying that many believe the incidents to be the “status quo” in the West Campus area. 

Over the weekend, the Campus Climate Response Team received a report of another balloon attack in the West Campus area.

Ryan Miller, an educational administration graduate student and associate director of Campus Diversity and Strategic Initiatives, was unable to provide the location of the incident, name of the student or contents of the balloon because of the ongoing nature of the case.

Though Davis said he does not know what the second balloon was filled with, he thinks focusing on the bleach issue is secondary to a larger issue. 

“We’re beginning to see a pattern,” Davis said. “Even if the balloon was filled with butter or pudding, or whatever, [these incidents] are certainly symbolic because people know what those balloons mean to us.” 

On Aug. 27, UTPD told Davis that the APD detective assigned to his case was unavailable. Davis said UTPD proceeded to handle the investigation “unilaterally.” The APD detective assigned to Davis’ case could not be reached for comment.

APD Cpl. David Boyd told The Daily Texan that APD’s investigation could not continue without a sworn statement from the victim. Boyd’s statement was inaccurate, as he was referring to pending investigations from 2012. Davis delivered his statement that same day. 

In the fall of 2012, several students reported similar incidents to police and University officials.

“The people involved last year never showed any evidence,” Davis said. “APD hasn’t made any official public statements about my case yet.” 

UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey confirmed Davis’ story.  

Posey said UTPD put considerable resources toward confirming the report of minorities being targeted with bleach-filled balloons last year, but were unable to confirm it after repeated requests for evidence went unanswered. 

“After media reports of a possible balloon incident, [former UTPD Chief of Police] Robert Dahlstrom asked students during a local media interview to come forward and report any incident where they were hit with a liquid filled balloon or witnessed such an event,” Posey said. 

Posey said UTPD received more than 20 reports. However, the majority of reporting students were “Caucasian sorority females.” 

“Students came forward and confessed to throwing water-filled balloons, targeting no particular groups,” Posey said. “They were referred to Student Judicial Services.”

Although his perception of Austin as a culturally diverse and tolerant place has not changed, Davis said racism is ingrained in many students attending UT. 

“A lot of people will say, ‘Oh, it’s just a balloon,’” Davis said. “But for others, it’s really not funny. It’s a reminder of the racial exclusion that pervades this campus.”