Students and staff at the University of Texas at Austin have launched protests after four students were allegedly assaulted with bleach-filled balloons while off campus, ABC News reports. Some suspect that the “bleach bomb” incidents, which occurred between June and September, were racially motivated, as all four victims were minority students. The attacks were not reported until the campus police chief started an investigation.
“We had heard at UT rumors of incidents that had happened, but no one had ever filed a report,” Cindy Posey, the public information officer for the UT police department, told ABC News. “Our chief of police did his own research, found some things on Facebook, and heard about a couple of people who were hit by balloons.”
Four students of color filed reports this week after police approached them about the attacks. Although campus police have not confirmed that the balloons were filled with bleach, Jaysen Runnels, an African American student, said he has been hit twice by the balloons, which were lobbed from high-rise buildings. All four students report that the attacks occurred near West Campus apartments.
“It’s very frustrating to know that it’s 2012 and that stuff like this still happens,” Runnels told ABC News affiliate KVUE-TV.
Dozens of people gathered at a campus statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Tuesday to address the situation. According to university-based newspaper The Horn, sophomore Taylor Carr—one of the students who reported a bleach balloon attack—spoke to demonstrators.
“It is people of color they are attacking in West Campus,” Carr said. “Until we put pressure on the university to [protect] us, these events are going to keep happening.”
Police told KVUE that it could prove difficult to confirm that the incidents were hate crimes, but this is not the university’s first experience with allegedly biased behavior. According to The Horn, members of UT’s Greek community recently faced criticism for racially-themed sorority and fraternity parties, including a “Fiesta” themed event during which two attendees wore shirts branded with the words “Illegal” and “Border Patrol.”
The Austin Police Department has joined the University of Texas Police Department’s efforts to further investigate.