Questions of LAPD Racial Profiling After Six Students Arrested
Students at the University of Southern California are seeking answers after witnessing what they say were wrongful arrests, excessive use of force, and racial profiling by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Early Saturday morning, 79 LAPD officers arrived at a house party of mostly African-American and Latino USC students held near near the intersection of 23rd and Hoover streets, according to Department of Public Safety Chief John Thomas. Six of those students were arrested.
Initially the LAPD responded to a noise complaint for a loud party, said Thomas. However, although one party at the scene was attended by mostly African-American and Latino students, another group of mostly white students were simultaneously partying across the street.
Students say the difference in police response to the two parties was "blatant."
Matthew Walsh attended the gathering of white students across the street, none of whom were arrested, and says he watched the LAPD's treatment of Black and Latino students from the balcony. "Our party didn't actually get broken up by LAPD, a lot of people just left on their own volition," he said. "The attitude of the police officers toward the two parties was completely different. It was absurd, I couldn't believe it."
Rikiesha Pierce, a USC senior who attended the party of mostly minority students has, since the incident, operated as a liaison between LAPD officials and many concerned students. LAPD Officer Carlyle was among the first to arrive on the scene.
Pierce said he initially requested that the DJ shut down the amplified sound. Although the DJ complied, she said, he continued to make shout-outs into the microphone. Carlyle then dispatched a call for assistance in diffusing the crowd of students, citing their alleged “refusal to disperse.”
A squad of 79 police officers in full riot gear arrived, many brandishing batons and flashlights while barricading Hoover Street.
Students say they witnessed officers using excessive force to arrest six student party-goers -- including one male who says he received a fractured scapula and a girl who says her arrest led to several bruises on her arm and hip.
"I should be able to stand with the police and feel safe," said Pierce. "Not isolated. Not alone."
"People were traumatized and scared," said Black Student Assembly Director Lamar Gary, who also attended the event. "They didn’t know what to do -- people were helpless."
ATVN reached out to the LAPD, but no one immediately responded for comment. On Sunday, someone at the LAPD media relations department said they had no knowledge of the arrests.
For many minority students like Pierce and Gary, the feeling of racial marginalization has become commonplace, with Saturday as the latest in a string of run-ins between minority students and the LAPD.
But according to Gary, while his peers may have felt helpless, they certainly weren’t hopeless. Attendees pulled out their phones and snapped photos and videos of the unprecedented number of officers called out to shut down the party.
What followed was an explosion of social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, rallying behind the slogans “I am a scholar, not a criminal” and #USCChangeMovement.
Join the stand against LAPD's racial profiling of our fellow students and LA as a whole. #USCchangemovement
— KEV MARTIN (@iamKevMartin) May 6, 2013
Friday night, I told an officer that he arrested USC scholars who will change the world. He laughed. Little did he know. #USChangeMovement
— Frances Wang (@FrancesWang_) May 6, 2013
I can celebrate when I know people who look like me can fully enjoy this college experience without being harassed and profiled.
— Nate Howard (@natepoetics) May 5, 2013
One video posted by Gary garnered 15,000 views in one day, and by Monday, the views accumulated more than 75,000.
The video features footage of several dozen LAPD officers lined up along Hoover:
“Watching everyone pull out their phones and document what was going on instead of engaging in violent activity,” said USC senior Scarlett Royston, “was one of my proudest moments.”
But it was also one of her only proud moments. Despite being originally cited for “refusal to disperse” on 23rd Street, at least three students allege being arrested several blocks away from the party between 28th and 32nd Streets.
Royston said the number of blocked-off streets prevented her from complying with the order to disperse.
“My car was on 24th Street, and they wouldn’t let me enter to get to my car. They said, ‘That’s too bad, you’ve got to go somewhere else,'" said Royston.
She says when she headed in another direction to walk to her apartment, it was also blocked off.
“You have me surrounded,” she said. “I can’t go home, I can’t go to my car, but you’re telling me to ‘disperse.’ That is an issue -- if you can’t go anywhere, then how are you supposed to disperse?”
Pierce agrees, and even suggests the creation of protocol for an emergency Campus Cruiser service. "We need a comprehensive system of evacuation. I’m a woman -- I was by myself at 2:00 in the morning. And you want me to just walk?"
An uncertain air of anxiety -- yet a clear sense of determination -- permeated late Saturday night as a group of student leaders met to devise a plan of action in solidarity. Included in the conversation were Pierce, Royston and Gary, as well as several other student activists, two of whom had been arrested.
One of the students at the meeting said she had no knowledge of the reason behind her arrest until hours after her detainment in the Southwest Division facility. “I was unaware that if a police officer is performing his duties, it is actually illegal to ask him questions.”
Her unawareness of the law against police interference is only a symptom of a larger issue in which many students are ignorant of their local and state penal codes, and even federal laws.
With issues like these in mind, Pierce, Gary and others planned solutions to help target the community-wide need for understanding while building a positive relationship with law enforcement.
“We don’t know what their protocol is, or any of the details of their Memorandum of Understanding,” said Gary. “People who are affected by this should know how far DPS can go as far as protecting us, and when LAPD takes over. Where is that wiggle room, and what qualified for them to send so many squad cars to the party?”
Despite those unanswered questions, Pierce makes it clear that DPS has, in fact, been working diligently to help resolve the immediate issue.
She said that upon emailing him, Chief Thomas -- although out-of-state at the time of the incident -- expressed extreme and immediate concern for the welfare of the students.
“When he touched down, he called me; when he was heading to the airport, he called me; when he was getting on the taxi, he called me,” Pierce said. “So on the end of DPS there has been a comprehensive, conscientious approach in trying to come to terms and give us some understanding.”
She also noted that both DPS and LAPD had already reached out to meet with her and other community leaders in response to a similar incident on April 12, in which officers responded to a noise complaint in full riot gear for a party hosted by two students of color.
Since that time, “Chief Thomas has been more than trying to make this work,” she said.
"I'm committed to making some fundamental types of changes to how LAPD responds to these types of calls," said Thomas.
Both Thomas and Pierce hope that all parties involved will cooperate at Tuesday’s forum. If students, administration and law enforcement alike are open to a respectful dialogue, they said, it may lead to a solid protocol and mutual understanding for future social gatherings.
"By the end of Tuesday, we want some concrete changes of how LAPD responds," DPS Chief Thomas repeated. "It's going to be a monumental waste of time if by the end of Tuesday, we don't have that change."
But until that "change" comes, Pierce says that for her and other minority students like her, the message from the recent string of incidents is simple.
“We are students by day -- delinquents by five.”