Iraqi Teen, Muslim Group Say Assault Was Racially Motivated

By Mark Geary, Reporter

Saif Al-Safi of Cedar Rapids was beaten by a player from an opposing team following a softball game at Tait Cummings Park on May 23. Al-Safi's jaw was broken and had to be wired shut after surgery and his mother was kicked with a pair of cleats and the family says racial slurs were used during the attack. The 18-year-old participated in his graduation from Jefferson High School in a wheel chair. Taken on Monday June 28, 2010 at his home in Cedar Rapids. (Cliff Jette/Sourcemedia Group)

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS – A fight that broke out after an adult softball game could now become a federal hate-crime investigation. An Iraqi immigrant says a player on the opposing team called him derogatory names, punched him, and broke his jaw.

Saif Al-Safi says he has no idea why he got yelled at and punched after his softball game. Now, his jaw is wired shut and he's had to take off from work for six weeks. The Iowa Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations calls the incident a hate crime.

Al-Safi still remembers the moment right after his softball game when he says a player on the opposing team came up and punched him. "I shook. I was seeing three of everything. I tried to get back up, but I just fell down,” he said. Before the punch, Al-Safi says the man hurled offensive, racist words at him...words that hurt more than his injury. "It was painful, but it's over now. I still feel the words,” he said.

His mother, Sahera Al-Safi, moved her family to America to escape violence. "I'm American. This is my country. I've lived here almost twenty years,” she said. She says she got kicked during the incident and worried her son might not wake up. "I thought my son was dying. I didn't know what to do,” she said, “I want this guy to go to jail."

Saif Al-Safi moved to the United States when he was a few years old. He's always considered himself an American. "All my friends are here. I don't even remember anything from Iraq or Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The Iowa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations calls this is an obvious case of racism and wants the law to see it as such. "Why should they be treated differently because of their skin color or because of their natural origin or because of their faith? They shouldn't,” executive director Miriam Amer said.

Al-Safi insists what happened to him is rooted in race. But prosecutors are only calling this a simple assault- nothing involving a hate crime. Police have a warrant out for the alleged attacker's arrest, but, again, that warrant does not involve any kind of hate crime or hate speech- just misdemeanor assault.

Cedar Rapids police say this incident seems to be just trash-talking that got out of hand.

KCRG-TV9 & KCRG.com are not naming the man because he has not been charged. But, KCRG-TV9 did speak to him Monday evening and he said there is a lot more to this story. However, he did not want to comment any further.

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