BALTIMORE – A white woman beaten by a group of black students on a bus has prompted a hate-crime investigation, attempts by transit officials to reassure riders of the safety of the system, and radio talk-show chatter over comparisons with the Jena Six case.
The uproar prompted two leading black politicians to issue statements decrying the attack.
Sarah Kreager, 26, suffered broken facial bones and other injuries after she was punched, kicked and dragged off the bus Tuesday afternoon. Kreager's companion, Troy Ellis, was also attacked, but not beaten as severely. Kreager has an unlisted phone number and attempts to reach her Friday were unsuccessful.
MTA police said evidence has not been found to support claims by the students' parents that the children were provoked.
"We are at this point investigating it as a hate crime," MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said.
The attack immediately drew comparisons on talk radio and Internet blogs to the Jena, La. case in which a white student was attacked by a group of black students, leading to demontrations by black activists who alleged local authorities were prosecuting blacks more harshly than whites. Many callers and web site posters questioned what they considered a lack of outrage over the latest attacks.
But Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and Rep. Elijah Cummings, both black, issued statements condemning the attack.
"The physical assault of any human being, regardless of motivation, is conduct that is unacceptable. As police continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime, we must rise together as a community to take a stand against violence toward any of our neighbors," Cummings said in statement issued Friday.
Dixon said after the attack that she was extremely concerned about the beating, which she described as "deplorable."
"I will not tolerate intimidation or violence anywhere in our city," the mayor said. "I have offered the MTA whatever assistance they need to investigate this incident and to do our part to ensure the public transportation system is safe for everyone."
MTA Northern District Capt. David Marzola said the middle school students, three females and six males 14 to 15 years old, are also accused of menacing an elderly white passenger and assaulting the bus operator, a black male who defended his passenger.
"He probably saved this gentleman's life," Marzola said.
The driver was not identified because he is considered a witness to a crime, the MTA said.
Video from a surveillance camera on the bus is also being analyzed as part of the investigation, the MTA said.
The students, who ride the bus to Robert Poole Middle School, have been released into the custody of their parents, Greene said.
Col. John Gavrilis, deputy chief of the MTA Police, said MTA Police have stationed an officer on the line since Tuesday and the city school police force has assigned extra officers to the Hampden school.
Greene said the nine students have had their bus privileges revoked.
"Riding the bus is a privilege," she said. "Public safety is our primary concern."
MTA officials noted the system is safe with a total of 381 crimes this year on the transit system, which carries 250,000 riders a day, with property crimes accounting for the vast majority.
However, the attack was the latest in a string of high-profile crimes to have taken place on or near MTA facilities.
Nicole Edwards, 17, was fatally stabbed near a Baltimore light rail station in November, 2006, during an armed robbery of Edwards and her brother. Lataye S. King, 17, was sentenced to 25 years in prison Thursday in the case, and a 15-year-old co-defendant is to be sentenced in February for robbery conspiracy and aggravated assault.
In October, a twice-convicted rapist was accused of attacking a woman at a light rail station in Linthicum. And an MTA officer shot and killed a robbery suspect late last year at a Reisterstown Metro station after police said he pulled a gun.