Tuesday, July 28, 2009


John Bior Deng, aged 26, was conducting social research
disguised as a homeless man in Iowa City.

(July 28, Iowa City, IA) Last Friday evening a not so prominent African American Studies Scholar was shot and killed by a White Johnson County Deputy Sheriff. The Black man, John Deng, aged 26, had allegedly stabbed a White pedestrian, John Bohnenkamp, 63 years old. The official reports indicate that Deputy Terry Stotler, a 24 year veteran, was driving by the scene of the alleged altercation between Bohnenkamp and Deng. Witnesses report that they were involved in a heated exchange possibly regarding some bottles that had been broken on the ground after Deng dropped them from a sack. Bohnenkamp was leaving the Hawkeye Hide Away, a bar where he is a well known and liked regular patron when he encountered Deng outside.

Mr. Bohnenkamp had surgery over the weekend to repair a stab wound in his torso and has since been released. Mr. Deng died at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics from his gunshot wound.

There have been conflicting reports as to how Mr. Bohnenkamp actually received his stab wound. Some witnesses assert that Deng stabbed him with a knife while others contest that story. In any event there was a verbal altercation between the two men and Deputy Stotler, in his attempt to diffuse the situation, shot Mr. Deng.

While John Deng had the appearance of a vagrant, he was in fact working as an African American Studies Scholar and was engaged in a major study. According to his associates, he had been conducting research about homeless Black men for the past few weeks in Iowa City. He carried with him bottles and cans he collected from the streets and dumpsters and returned them to various stores to collect the refunds. “He made about 25 to 30 dollars a week depending on how hard he worked”, said a close friend who wished to remain anonymous. His associate continued, “John was doing some hard core field research. He decided the only way, as a researcher and a scholar that he could obtain the data he needed, he would have to live as a homeless man.”

Initially the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa City Police Department referred to Mr. Deng as a “transient.” Now that his true identity is known, there is sure to be an outcry from the African American Studies scholars, professors and commentators community. Unfortunately, this incident occurred within the racial shadows cast by the arrest of the Harvard Professor, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates by a White Cambridge (MASS) Police Sergeant, James Crowley. Gates is also an African American Studies Scholar and is regarded by his peers in academia as the most “prominent” and “important” of all the Black scholars in the country.

While Deng did not have the resume’, position and esteem of Professor Gates, he was also well regarded by those who knew him. Some of his research work and writings had received accolades. “Professor Deng has done some truly ground breaking, wind breaking work in the field of African American Studies particularly in the areas of sociology and poverty. He was committed to his research and, sadly, it killed him. This assault on the African American Studies community must stop. We appeal to the President to help stop this senseless abuse on the part of law enforcement.”

Dr. DeWauyne Otis Freeman, the Chairman of the African American Studies Program At South Central West Texas State University who was well acquainted with Deng and had served as his academic adviser while Deng was studying at SCWTSU commented, “John possessed a unique mind and a unique spirit. He had a very promising career ahead of him. The first paper he wrote that was published; ‘The Socio-Economic Impact of Break Dancing’ brought him instant acclaim and respect. His second paper entitled ‘Menthol Cigarettes and Cognac: A Potent Cultural Mix’, was also highly regarded and well received in the African American Studies community. People were sitting up and taking notice of this emerging brilliant scholar.”

Other notables in the African American Studies and Minority Studies departments at other universities and colleges have indeed begun to come forward and speak out on Professor Deng’s behalf. Dr. Cornell West of Princeton University, himself a well known Professional Negro told the New York Times, “I was well acquainted with brother John. Professor Deng and I have met at several seminars and conferences addressing racial issue in America. Professor Deng had done some innovative research to try to uncover the repercussions of having so many liquor stores located in predominantly minority, people of color, lower class, poverty-stricken, drug infested, crime ridden neighborhoods. He was also intrigued with the role malt liquor plays in crack addiction. Frankly, when he told me was was doing research and would be undercover as a Black homeless hobo in Iowa City, I knew he would never get out of there alive. Out there, they like to see themselves as ‘salt of the earth’ decent people but their racism is much more insidious and dangerous. But, John wanted to go out there to that backwater, backwards town. I warned him.”

While not all of the specifics of Professor Deng’s background have been confirmed, it is becoming clearer that his death was a case of mistaken identity. Tavis Smiley an NPR contributor said, “Iowa City is basically lily white. The only Black folks out there are there to play sports at the University or transplants from Chicago drawn to Iowa for its beautiful, open minded, accepting people. It is a color blind society in Iowa City; just about as color blind as Selma Alabama in 1949, just wonderful, sincere people. In a sense, I am not surprised that Professor Deng was living as a bum for academic purposes. He was just that kind of man; that devoted a researcher. He will be missed and we will never know how much he might have contributed to African American Studies and our society and culture as a whole.”







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