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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Forum Addresses Racial Profiling Accusations

DPS and LAPD representatives met with students to discuss how the recent controversy will be addressed. 

It was an emotional night Tuesday at the Campus Center when students, the USC Department of Public Safety, the Los Angeles Police Department and other members of the community discussed recent accusations of racial profiling.

"These cops have a very difficult job," said LAPD Dept. Chief Bob Green. "We don't get it right here all the time. And when we don't, we'll fix it."

On the morning of Saturday, May 4, more than 70 police officers showed up to two house parties near University Park Campus at the corner of 23rd Street and Hoover. According to reports, one party had predominately minority party-goers.

Some students claim it was this party that was the target of excessive force. 

"I saw my brothers and sisters and the Trojan Family treated like criminals. But not just criminals  worse than that, they were herded like animals," said Sarah Tither-Kaplan, a music industry major who says she attended the predominately Caucasian party across the street. 

"They were degraded, humiliated, and insulted and called names... thrown to the ground and injured."

"I watched my classmates being arrested. I watched them being thrown on the ground," said Evan Vujovich, a senior at USC who says he was at the party with Tither-Kaplan.

LAPD's Captain Paul Snell says race wasn't a factor, and the LAPD had to call for backup after the crowd refused to disperse. 

"We do not believe at this point that there's any indication this was race based," explained Snell. 

"We have digital car video that also has audio, and we wee able to see that there was resistance from the participators in the crowd. There is at least one incident where some type of can or bottle was thrown."

"Based on the circumstances, the officers believed their safety was in danger. Because of the number of instances that occurred, they put out what's called a help call," said Snell. "That required to bring resources from throughout the city, and that's why the number of officers responded in the particular situation.

Six students were arrested Friday night while the party was being broken up. Fred Dorton, the student's attorney, says he's working with the LAPD and district attorney's office to investigate what actually happened.

"I believe that the stories I've gotten concerning the officers, I see no evidence of bottle throwing or any of the students acting in a manner that I thought justified the arrest," explained Dorton. 

"I am very confident that these charges will be dropped."

The forum also included discussion of protocol and hopes for future policies to prevent incidents like the one that happened Friday night.

Senior Nate Howard hosted the predominately African American and Latino party. He became emotional when he spoke out about the change he hoped to see after tonight's forum.

"I've been trying to tell people again and again, it's not... it's not about us. Together. It's us. Trust and believe. We have to do it together," said Howard.

At times, organizers had to calm the crowd when people began to shout out comments.

"They can't hear you when your'e screaming. You gotta stand, you gotta be decent, and you have to come with understanding and intellect," said Rikiesha Pierce, president of USC's Student Organizing for Literacy Inclusion and Diversity (SOLID.)

Tuesday night's forum mainly focused on what will be done moving forward from this event.

"We want to ... put some concrete, solid definitive initiatives in place to prevent this from ever happening again," said USC DPS Chief John Thomas.

"Right now, with respect of the students, is to give them as much support as we possibly can to advocate, I'll just put it out there, from my perspective, that these charges be dropped," expressed USC Vice President of Student Affairs Michael Jackson.

Howard also spoke about moving forward and emphasized that unity was necessary.

"We are together. All of us. I don't want to have the same discussions on how we've been talking about change and how we're going to do it," said Howard. 

"Let's make something really happen."

President Max Nikias did not attend the forum Tuesday night. However, he sent out the following statement to students:

"Provost Garrett and I have instructed the USC Student Affairs staff to provide all needed support to our students, including counseling services. We are also pleased to hear that the students are being assisted with their academic concerns so that any impact on the affected students' studies and finals can be minimized. We are confident we will move ahead from this issue in an even more productive and positive manner. In the meantime, we encourage our students to continue to reach out to our caring and talented Student Affairs staff with any concerns."

While some students were happy to see Nikias responding to the reports, many were not pleased with his letter.

"He didn't really address the issue. Nikias just summarized what happened at the forum," said Audrey Noble, a junior studying print journalism. 

"The letter seemed very generic. If he really cared he would have showed up."

Economics and digital entrepreneurship senior Ola Bayode said, "It was a mockery of our efforts thus far. Our so called "President" Nikias must be a joke for this letter. This was the most generic letter I have ever read. Stil no apology, still no understanding for what we went through. This only adds fuel to the fire. Join the USChange movement. Together let us create our own world ."

"There are no words to describe the blatant disrespect I feel as a member of this university I have made my home for the last four years. This institution that I've contributed all that I am as a scholar, as a mentor, as a global ambassador and yet disregards my struggle as a student leader of color," said political science and philosophy senior Debbie Rumbo. 

"This is far beyond an issue of race. It is an issue of accountability. An issue that affects us all as the family we say we are. This letter just proves that we need to do more. This is not over."

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