Columbus police are investigating an incident in which a middle-school-aged boy on a bicycle was the target for a racial slur and vulgar hand gesture.
The boy’s family filed a report with the Columbus Police Department after the incident happened 4 p.m. Tuesday in the 3100 block of Westenedge Drive near National Road.
The boy told police that a man driving an older-model, full-size pickup truck made the hand gesture at him and then yelled an expletive including a comment about Muslims as he drove by, said Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police Department spokesman.
The boy, who was not injured, went home to report the incident to his parents, who in turn reported it to police.
Police are looking for the vehicle involved, described as a maroon Ford pickup with loud exhaust, Harris said. The truck had an unidentified marking on the hood, a sticker in the rear window, and was flying a 1-foot American flag from a pole on the passenger side of the truckbed, Harris said.
The man driving the truck was described as a white male in his late 50s or early 60s, medium build, with a long white beard, Harris said.
Anyone who has seen the truck or knows the driver is asked to call the Columbus Police Department’s tip line, as investigators want to talk to the driver about the incident, Harris said.
Police acknowledge that the incident may not rise to the level of a crime such as harassment because what the driver said could be argued to be free speech, but it is a matter they are continuing to investigate, he said.
Criminal harassment is defined in Indiana statutes as repeated or impermissable contact that would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress.
“Someone said something really hateful to a child and that is despicable,” Harris said. “We have extra patrols in the area and we are putting the description out in the hopes of talking with them.”
The incident is the only one of its type that has been reported to police in the past six months, although the department has learned of at least four other similar incidents through other channels, Harris said. But when people identified as targets were contacted, they declined to make a police report, he said.
After the November presidential election, the number of taunting incidents directed primarily at Hispanic students in Columbus increased. Disciplinary steps were taken against some students who were involved, school officials said.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. officials said they received about a dozen reports of taunting in local schools immediately after the election. Subsequently, another half dozen complaints were reported in BCSC’s secondary schools regarding taunts, said Larry Perkinson, BCSC student assistance coordinator.
Perkinson said the incidents have primarily consisted of comments made in hallways by one student walking behind another, or to one student being passed by another.
After the November incidents, the Columbus community held a Standing on the Side of Love rally at The Commons, where about 300 participants called for an end to the taunting.
BCSC officials have posted the school corporation’s official statement on “Respect, Fairness and Trust for All,” in English and Spanish on its website.
Tips and information can be left anonymously on the Columbus Police Department tip line: 812-376-2621