Cameron Pollack / Sun Senior Photographer

Cornell Police are urging any witnesses to a Saturday morning assault to come forward.

March 10, 2018

Cornell Police Seek Witnesses to Collegetown Assault of 3 Students By Suspect Who Used Racial Slurs

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This post has been updated.

Cornell Police are asking for the community’s help in finding a suspect who authorities said used racial epithets to harass a student in Collegetown, assaulted him and then injured two additional students who intervened to try and stop the assault.

Over the weekend, police urged anyone who saw the altercation beside a food truck on the corner of Dryden Road and Eddy Street shortly before 1:30 a.m. on Saturday — or knows someone who did — to contact the department’s investigators.

Witnesses described the suspect as a college-aged white man, about 5 feet 9 inches tall with blond-brown hair and wearing a windbreaker with a full-length zipper and a New England Patriots logo. The man fled the scene with two other men heading south on Eddy Street toward East Buffalo Street, police said.

It is not known if the suspect is a student, and authorities have not released the nature of the racial slurs or the victims’ identities or races. Two of the victims — the student harassed and one of the bystanders who intervened — were hospitalized for their injuries and released from Cayuga Medical Center on Saturday morning.

At the scene about 1:40 a.m., one of the apparent victims, dressed in a suit and tie, stood up and staggered before grabbing a pole and sitting back down to receive medical attention.

Emergency personnel treat a victim's injuries and interview witnesses next to the food truck on Eddy Street early in the morning on Saturday, March 10, 2018.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs / Sun City Editor

Emergency personnel treat a victim’s injuries and interview witnesses next to the food truck on Eddy Street early in the morning on Saturday, March 10, 2018.

Dozens of students walked past the scene on Saturday morning at about 1:30 as at least two men received medical treatment. Several students, many of whom were returning from parties or ordering from the food truck next to where the altercation occurred, paused to peer at the half-dozen police officers and additional medical personnel present.

The reported assault brought denunciations from students and administrators who lamented that once again, the campus was grappling with a physical assault during which the suspect used racial slurs.

Saturday’s dispute happened less than two blocks away from an altercation in September that led to hate crime charges against a Cornell sophomore. In that case, prosecutors have accused John Greenwood ’20, who was an underground member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity, of calling a black student a racist slur and assaulting him. Greenwood has pleaded not guilty and the criminal proceedings are in the pre-trial motion phase.

Cornell Police made an explicit call for community assistance on Saturday night, asking anyone who might be able to identify the suspect or identify additional witnesses to reach out to the department’s investigations unit by email at [email protected] or by phone at 607-255-1111.

People with information can also contact the department anonymously, police said, through the Cornell Police Silent Witness Program online.

David Honan, deputy chief of Cornell Police, said that sharing any further details in the early stages of the investigation could harm the department’s efforts to solve what he described as a “serious crime.”

President Martha Pollack said in a statement to the Cornell community on Saturday morning that if the perpetrator is a student, he would be held accountable by the Campus Code of Conduct and the result of any criminal proceedings.

“We wanted to make sure you heard about this directly from us and to know that we will not simply brush this episode aside, nor will we let it deter us as we continue to strive for a more just, equitable and inclusive campus,” Pollack and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, said in the joint statement.

Online, students said they were disgusted but not surprised by the reported altercation.

Most student groups refrained from issuing any statements while their members sought details about the nature of the crime, but individual students and some organizations said that “once again,” — or “yet again” — or “AGAIN” — they were dealing with the aftermath of an altercation involving racial slurs.

The Cornell Interfraternity Council said in a statement that members of its executive board were “angered and saddened by the news of another incidence of racial violence in Collegetown.”

The IFC said its members did not know if any of the involved individuals were fraternity members, but that the fraternity community, as “a set of institutions founded on racist ideals … is often at the center of many similar incidents at colleges across the country.”

Student Assembly members said the altercation “is the most recent in a series of attacks to minority students on campus” and “is a reflection of America and it is a reflection of Cornell.”

“Students should feel safe in their institution of learning” and should “be able to call Cornell their home,” wrote the assembly members, who also said the work of a committee task force looking into possible hate speech resolutions and the work of the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate are “more pertinent than ever.”

Pollack and Lombardi acknowledged that the altercation on Saturday was not a new phenomenon, writing: “As we stated last fall, all of us who abhor such acts must speak out against injustice, racism and bigotry. We must reach out and support each other and continue the difficult work of building a community grounded in mutual respect and kindness.”

The recommendations of the presidential task force will be shared among all students by the end of the semester, Pollack and Lombardi said.

“But all of this will remain only words without a mutual resolve on all of our parts to look inside ourselves; to express empathy and compassion to one another; to embrace change; and to make a difference,” Pollack and Lombardi said. “That work must continue, every day, and must be done by all of us.”

Cornell University’s South Asian Council wrote that “Cornell University does not feel safe to us” and said its members “want to know how Greek life is being structurally changed” following the discovery that Greenwood was an underground member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity, which shut down following the September arrest.

“This is about a systematic failure of institutions of higher learning tolerating injustice to marginalized communities because these [predominantly white institutions] care more about financial security and the public image, all the while wrapping highly intense and emotionally demanding rallying and response as opportunities for overburdened students to become ‘leaders, movers and shakers,’” the South Asian Council wrote.

Haven, Cornell’s LGBTQ Student Union, said in a statement that “we are once again afraid, hurt and frustrated.”

“We are afraid, because this makes us feel that we are not safe enough here,” the group wrote. “We are hurt, because we have been in pain for too long and continue to have to wait for opportunities to heal. We are frustrated, because this has happened before and the University is taking steps in the right direction, but we have yet to reach the place we want to be at.”

The group said it was calling on its own members and other students to “channel our hurt into resilience” and called on Cornell to “to protect us and to uplift us.”