Another 'Racial Attack' Ruled a Hoax in College Town

The laid back and trendy college town of Iowa City was plunged into turmoil a little over two weeks ago, after a black University of Iowa freshman claimed that three white men had viciously attacked him in the downtown and called him a racial slur.  A media firestorm ensued, with the first report airing on a Chicago news station.  Iowa City police quickly declared they were investigating a possible hate crime and even consulted with the FBI.  City and university officials were on the defensive.  Social justice warriors held protests.

The hate crime, however, turned out to be a hoax – just as more than a few observers had suspected all along.

Marcus Owens, 19, nevertheless found willing ears from media outlets and among university officials when claiming that racist college-age white men had attacked him in the mostly white college town – a city that social justice warriors have long claimed is pervaded with an undercurrent of racism, as reflected in all the "microaggressions" and standoffishness supposedly suffered by black newcomers.  Many blacks from Chicago's inner city have migrated to Iowa City in recent years – thereby ending its status (to the delight of liberals) as an orderly whitopia.

Owens, a business major, adroitly courted the news media with his harrowing story, and so did his supportive and media-savvy family, who live in the affluent and mostly white Chicago suburb of Naperville.  The hate crime story was picked up by outlets as far away as New York.  Some published photos of Owens's bruised face and chipped front teeth – photos provided by his family.

Demanding justice, Owens's father insisted during a television interview that his son didn't embrace the thug life, but was just trying to get an education.  Owens and family members met with the University of Iowa's president, J. Bruce Harreld, who together with city officials expressed concern that a racially motivated hate crime had occurred.  Speaking at a news conference, a university spokesman stated that the university was ready to help Owens in whatever way it could.

Three headlines in the Press-Citizen reflected the media hoopla.  "Police investigate reported hate crime against UI student," announced a banner headline after the alleged attack on April 30.  Another subsequently declared, "Assaulted UI student's family looking for justice."  And as public outrage grew, a headline reported, "Iowa students protest, rally and issue statements against hate crime."

The hate crime narrative unraveled on Monday night, when Owens's family issued an abject apology that admitted that Owens was telling tall tales.  The dénouement occurred after Owens and his family were presented with surveillance video and witness accounts gathered during an exhaustive police investigation.  In their statement, the family nevertheless stopped short of blaming Owns entirely for the attack, explaining: "Upon learning more details of the case, and while racial slurs served to fuel the violence, Marcus now knows that his account of events was inconsistent with police findings, in part due to alcohol being involved, embarrassment at his behavior, as well as injuries he sustained."

Speaking during a Tuesday morning news conference, Iowa City Police captain Troy Kelsay said: "Marcus was not the victim of an assault.  Marcus was an active participant and even an instigator in three separate physical confrontations or assaults that occurred at bar close.  During at least one of those, he suffered injuries.  That is unfortunate, but when you go looking for multiple fights, that is going to happen."  Police said the incident involved an "ongoing disagreement."

Police acknowledged that somebody had called Owens a racial slur, but whether the person was black or white was not revealed.  Whatever the case, the use of the n-word did not amount to a hate crime, they said.  The fighting involved Owens and members of local fraternities.

So why did Owens make up the hate crime story?  According to one account, he  was afraid to tell his parents he was injured during multiple drunken fights he had provoked.  A race hoax story, he figured, would be easier for them to swallow.

Kelsay, the police captain, made an interesting observation about the police investigation, pointing out that outrage over the alleged hate crime could have made some people afraid to come forward with a different story.  "The first liar is the one that's believed, and that was Marcus in this case," he said, according to the Press-Citizen.

Incredibly, officials do not plan to charge Owens with filing a false police report or demand that he compensate the city for the drain his hate crime claim put on police and university resources, according to remarks made during Tuesday's news conference.  "If we were going to charge him, we could charge a variety of other people with disorderly conduct or different things," said Johnson County attorney Janet Lyness.  And it seemed more important to the community to get the information out on what had happened."

She explained that "it seemed much more important to be able to get the information out so that people aren't afraid of being downtown or [afraid] that there were three white men who were going to attack people randomly because of racial things."

It was a strange bit of logic.  Perhaps Lyness and city officials felt it better not to antagonize a member of a protected minority.  Put another way, failing to charge Marcus Owens was perhaps really all about political correctness – a powerful force in a college town like Iowa City, where guilt-ridden white liberals control the levers of power.  It will be interesting to see if the University of Iowa does the right thing and expels Marcus Owens.

That Owens grew up during the Obama years cannot be ignored.  It's an era when playing the victim card has become increasingly popular (and profitable) – and has even gotten a smile and wink from President Obama.  So Owens's readiness to embrace a hate crime hoax was perhaps understandable – a product of our times.  Whether he learns his lesson remains to be seen.  But given the media savvy Owens demonstrated, perhaps he should consider a second major in journalism or public relations.

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