Early blast 'person of interest': Racial profiling?

Reports on now-cleared Saudi national prompt questions

Early Boston bombing report: Racial profiling?

BEND, Ore. - Amid the chaos, the smoke and the screams -- and confusion -- following the Boston bombing, a "person of interest" quickly emerges.

A Saudi Arabian man studying at a Boston college is still in the hospital after suffering severe burns from the Marathon Bombing.

Many initial reports called him a suspect in the attacks; he was questioned in the hospital, his apartment voluntarily searched.

Police now say he is only a witness, posing for many the question: Is this another case of racial profiling?

"My first reaction was, why that person? There were lots of people running away," Karen Roth, Central Oregon Community College's director of multicultural activities, said Wednesday.

The man, in his twenties, was reportedly running from the scene and looked suspicious.

Soon plastered across social media and headlines was the first could-be suspect.

On Monday, just hours after the attack the Washington Times tweeted, "Police question Saudi national on Boston Marathon bombings."

The Saudi man is cleared of suspicion, but Roth said the damage is already done.

"He had his house gone through, he's suffered the consequences of somebody's stereotype," Roth said.  "It's not something we can ever give that person back."

Roth says stereotypes associating Muslims or Arabs with terrorism were amplified after 9/11, but go back further.

"The Oklahoma City bombings, the very first reaction was this had to have been someone who was Muslim or Arab," she said.

Roth said stereotypes are part of human nature-something we can't fully escape.

"The thing about our stereotypes and prejudices, which is why they are so insidious, is that they do happen so quickly, especially when it's in a crisis situation," Roth said.

But nature can be changed with nurture--and Roth says fighting stereotypes is crucial.

"The more we get to know one another, it's really hard to hate someone, it's really hard to hold onto that stereotype."

Saudi Arabian Embassy officials told the Washington Post a Saudi man was questioned by police as a witness, and was fully cooperating with the investigation, and "granted permission for his Boston area apartment to be searched."

COCC is holding a series of talks called 'Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys' to teach people about Muslim culture and to help break down stereotypes.

'Muslim Journeys and the Making of American History' takes place May 1st from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Wille Hall of the COCC Campus Center.

'A Quiet Revolution: The Veil's Resurgence from the Middle East to America' on May 29th from noon to 1 p.m. in the Oregon Room of the Barber Library.

Both talks are free and open to the public.

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