BELLEVILLE–A Belleville police spokesman now says an incident where a white student was beaten by teen black assailants on a bus “may not be racially motivated.”
“It was premature on my part,” said Belleville Police Capt. Don Sax. “It was my personal and emotional comment after only seeing the video briefly.”
Some of the students on the bus yesterday during the incident cheered the beating, the video shows.
The about-face came this morning as the story made national headlines. Although, Sax said it was purely his review of the video that changed his mind.
Belleville has had a long history of racial turmoil, with a past that includes police harassment of black motorists, cross burnings and discrimination in city hiring.
The divide began a century ago, in 1903, when a black man was lynched by a mob of 5,000 people in the town square, set on fire and dismembered.
The 17-year-old victim was white and the teen assailants were black. Police released a video of the beating, which shows the victim being punched repeatedly while other students on the bus gather to watch, some cheering. It doesn’t appear that the victim did anything to provoke an attack and tried only to defend himself. Police said it all unfolded in a five-minute span.
The victim was trying to find a seat and was told by two students he could not sit next to them, police said.
As he walked to the seat, someone shouted, “Beat his ass.”
When he did sit down, one teen tried to push him out of his seat then began grabbing the victim’s neck and punching him in the face.
With each punch, some in the crowd chanted, “Boom, boom, boom.”
The victim eventually returned to his seat, but another student began taunting him a few minutes later. The victim was then struck in the face.
It was unclear what, if anything, the bus driver did to stop the attack. At one point, before the second attack, a man shouts, “Sit down guys.”
Students intervened to help the victim both times.
Two teens were taken into custody; authorities will apply for charges today. Both students have been suspended, said Superintendent Greg Moats.