Feelings of unrest spurred in a rally yesterday to oppose perceived racial insensitivity on campus after a balloon was thrown at government senior Bryan Davis while he was walking outside the University Towers apartment complex on Aug. 22. According to officials, the balloon — originally alleged to have been filled with bleach — was likely filled with water.
Gregory J. Vincent, vice president for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said preliminary tests showed the balloon was filled with water.
In response to the incident, a rally was held in front the Martin Luther King Jr. Statue in the East Mall. It was organized by the Black Student Alliance on the 50th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. At the rally, UTPD Chief of Police David Carter, who was among several UT officials in attendance, said the protest was a positive step forward in ensuring the safety of students on and off campus.
“[Last week’s] incident doesn’t appear to be a hate crime,” Carter said. “Regardless, it created a sense of fear. People ultimately police themselves, and a safe community is one in which people have an open dialog and understand the impact of something like this.”
Carter said the investigation into the alleged bleach bombing is ongoing. On Tuesday, Davis met with UTPD officers to deliver the socks, shorts and shirt he was wearing on the day of the incident.
The clothing was sent off to an independent forensics lab for further testing. UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said the University will pay $500 to have the clothing analyzed and said she is uncertain as to when the test results will be made available.
Speakers at the rally maintained that racism and bigotry are prevalent in many facets of UT culture and urged UT officials to address issues of race. Racist targeting of students in West Campus is a common occurrence and is indicative of larger issues within the University, said Snehal Shingavi, an assistant English professor who spoke at the rally.
“Whether there’s bleach in the balloon or not, the sentiment behind that balloon is exactly the same,” Shingavi said. “You are not welcome here if you’re different … These things continue to happen, but the response both from students and the University is inconsistent.”
Rally attendees were invited to share their stories of racial injustice.
Government junior Mirusha Yogarajah said students of color feel unsafe in West Campus, an area she claims is dominated by a largely white population.
Vincent said throwing balloons filled with any substance is considered an assault, which is a criminal offense, and is punishable under chapter 11 of the University’s Institutional Rules and Regulations.
“Any person who believes such actions are merely schoolyard pranks is mistaken,” Vincent said.
Cpl. David Boyd, a public information officer for the Austin Police Department, said the department is still waiting for the victim’s official statement but added that a detective has been assigned to the investigation. Without a sworn statement, Boyd said, Davis will be unable to press charges.
“It’s difficult to say whether this investigation will yield anything,” Boyd said. “Once the statement is made, then the investigation can proceed.”