A rough walk home

A.S. president says knifing assault hasn’t lessened his love for Chico

Associated Students President Joseph Igbineweka survived a stabbing attack in a campus neighborhood. In response, many in the community are coming together to build a campaign against what police say is a racially motivated crime.

Associated Students President Joseph Igbineweka survived a stabbing attack in a campus neighborhood. In response, many in the community are coming together to build a campaign against what police say is a racially motivated crime.

Photo By Leslie Layton

Coming together: A unity rally will be held at 11 a.m. Friday (April 23) on Trinity Commons on the Chico State campus. Another version of this story was published by the regional news service www.chicosol.org.

It took Chico State senior Joseph Igbineweka almost 40 hours to get home after he left a weekend party that was held not far from his west Chico apartment. And when he got there, exhausted from surgery and with five bandaged stab wounds, his world had shifted.

Igbineweka, the Associated Students president who was stabbed repeatedly Sunday (April 18) at about 2 a.m. near West Sacramento Avenue after someone shouted racial slurs at him as he walked home, has become the focus of both local and national media stories.

Chico police issued a press release later on the day Igbineweka was attacked, saying he had been the victim of an attempted murder and hate crime.

Igbineweka left Enloe Medical Center Monday (April 19) with the assistance of two friends after giving press interviews from his third-floor hospital bed.

As he was checking out of Enloe, almost 300 concerned students, faculty and community members were gathered for a forum in the Bell Memorial Union to discuss the assault on the widely respected student leader. Another forum to build support for a campaign against violence is planned for Friday, April 23.

Igbineweka, 23, welcomes that campaign. He said in an April 20 telephone interview: “We need to keep talking about ways we can reduce the cycle of ignorance. We should spread this conversation to the classrooms.”

Igbineweka said that as he walked home early that Sunday morning, he became aware that a pair of young men were following him and yelling racist insults. They became more threatening, with one asking if he had ever been shot.

He shot a glance backward and concluded, to his own relief, that they weren’t carrying a gun. At 6 feet 4 inches tall and 215 pounds, Igbineweka says he’s confident in his ability to defend himself, and he told the men, “Don’t mess with me.” One of the men came up on his side, he said, “wanting to fight.”

Igbineweka threw a punch and the man went down. But the man’s companion pulled a knife and began slashing and stabbing Igbineweka.

A Chico Police Department press release says Igbineweka “received wounds to his neck, chest, abdomen and arm,” and his friends have pointed out that he came extremely close to suffering a life-threatening injury. The press release says the attack occurred at 2:17 a.m. and police were there at 2:19 a.m.

Chico police Sgt. George Laver said it was a “good coincidence” that officers were patrolling the neighborhood when the attack occurred. Officers driving by were waved down by people who had come to Igbineweka’s aid. “A black male approached officers covered in blood,” Laver said, reviewing a police report on the incident.

Two men who were nearby were taken into custody. Only one, 19-year-old Barry Sayavong, is under investigation in connection with the assault. Police said he was identified by witnesses as the man who attacked Igbineweka.

Laver said Sayavong “claims a gang affiliation” and had “prior police contacts” as a juvenile. Police believe Sayavong is also the man who hurled the racial slurs, but Chief Mike Maloney says Sayavong has been uncooperative. His arraignment has been scheduled for 3 p.m. today (April 22).

Igbineweka is a native of Nigeria who moved to the United States at age 15 and graduated high school in Richmond, Calif. His father and brother came to Chico following the assault. Igbineweka has a twin sister in the Bay Area; his mother is visiting Nigeria.

Igbineweka campaigned for the student body presidency advocating environmental sustainability, community service and, ironically, student safety. A political-science and international-relations major, he hopes to attend law school or graduate school in public policy.

Chico State President Paul Zingg said he knows Igbineweka well and considers him “terrific.”

“He cares deeply about his fellow students; he’s exemplary,” Zingg said, describing Igbineweka as someone who is “very centered, calm, soft-spoken.”

In an April 18 telephone interview, Zingg condemned the attack as a symptom of racism that is “deep-seated and widespread and getting worse” on college campuses and in larger communities. Zingg had visited Igbineweka Sunday, after the A.S. president had undergone surgery.

Laver said police have noticed an increase in incidents involving conflicts between street gang members and partying college students in some neighborhoods.

Zingg said there’s a problem with “some folks who see college students as privileged, rich kids” and easy targets for their anger. But he’s also been quick to reproach Chico State students for insensitivity.

Partying on César Chávez Day left many on campus and in the community offended by students who donned sombreros and fake mustaches and carried bottles of tequila. In a lengthy and pointed e-mail to the campus community, Zingg condemned costumes meant to reflect a Mexican stereotype and called such behavior “repugnant.”

“Not enough people are sensitive to the hurt this behavior causes,” Zingg told this reporter.

A few weeks after the holiday, four posters for A.S. presidential candidate Amro Jayousi were defaced. On one poster, the word “Arab” had been spray painted.

Students at the April 19 forum discussed how to stop intolerance and insensitivity on campus and in the community. Some worried for their own safety, and one student asked Chief Maloney if African-Americans have been targeted by a local street gang.

Maloney said that no, police have no reason to think that African-Americans are in particular danger. Students who are cautious and avoid walking alone at night “don’t have to live in fear,” the chief said.

Igbineweka said the attacker should be given the “maximum punishment” so that “someone else doesn’t get hurt.” He says he was singled out for the attack because of his race. “Because I am black I was a threat to them,” he said. “I don’t know why; it may be a gang mentality.”

He said he was in pain and suffered nerve damage to his left arm. But many people, he said, are in worse situations. “This hasn’t changed how I feel about Chico,” he said. “Chico is a safe town. I still love it to death. This was a group of guys so out of their minds they think they can control someone else.”