More than 1,500 people–mostly students and community residents–attended a forum on the USC campus Tuesday night to voice concern about recent actions by law enforcement officials where African Americans feel they were racially profiled.
The forum followed a sit-in at the Tommy Trojan statue Monday by USC students upset about how police shut down two parties early Sunday, and arrested six students.
The forum was scheduled in response to concerns that Black students were being treated differently from other ethnic groups when it came to throwing parties on and around the campus community, said Rikiesha Pierce, founder of the campus organization Students Organizing for Literacy, Inclusion and Diversity (SOLID).
The Tuesday evening forum followed an earlier meeting between her organization, the Department of Public Safety and the LAPD where new security protocols were discussed.
According to police, the Sunday incident began with a complaint about noise coming from two parties near Hoover and 23rd streets about 2 a.m. Pierce said two house parties were being held across the street from one another–one was thrown by African American students and featured diverse but predominantly Black attendees. The other thrown by White students, which also featured a diverse but predominantly White and Latino collection of attendees.
Pierce said she was among a number of students who attended both parities.
“There have been several complaints lodged with the department alleging racial profiling,” LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman said. “Internal Affairs will investigate the complaints. The forum gave students and police a chance to discuss what happened on Sunday. Los Angeles police Capt. Paul Snell, head of the department’s Southwest patrol area, and USC’s public safety chief, John Thomas, were attended.
“We are here to serve the community,” Neiman said. “So we want to address anyone’s concerns about possible racial profiling and biased policing.”
He said several 911 calls about loud music prompted the police response. “Officers from Southwest Division responded to quell the noise. It was one unit, and at least one other unit as backup, because it was a campus party and there would probably be a large number of people.”
When the officers got there, Neiman said they discovered there were two parties going on across the street from each other.
“The officers went to the first party and told them there had been noise complaints so they needed to turn the music down and reduce the noise,” Neiman said. “The officers then walked across the street and told the organizers of the second party the same thing.”
Neiman said that while the officers were at the second party, whose organizers complied with the cease-and-desist order, the noise and music started up again across the street at the first party.
“So the officers went back over to the first party to cite the organizer because of the noise,” Neiman said.
“The officers were in the process of bringing out the organizer to give him the citation, when one person from that party came outside and tried to interfere with the officers.”
When officers brought the party host outside, “partygoers began to throw bottles and debris at the officers,” Neiman said. “That’s when they put out an officer needs help call, and the officers began to arrive on the scene to quell the disturbance.”
The officers initially dispatched were in regular LAPD uniforms, he said. Those who responded to the “officer needs help” call were in protective gear.
At the end, six students were eventually arrested during a confrontation, according to Lt. Neiman.
One student, who allegedly got in the way of police, was booked for felony interfering with an officer, but none of the names of those arrested was made public. A second person was arrested for misdemeanor interfering with an officer, and the other four were booked on suspicion of failing to disperse, Neiman said.
Los Angeles police said an officer suffered a shoulder injury while making an arrest and was taken to a hospital.
Part of the problem, he said, was that the arrival of the officers brought people from both parties into the street.
“So they were commingling on the streets when the bottles and debris started getting thrown at the officers,” Neiman said.
Pierce, who used her own cell phone to record events and urged others to use cell phones and instagram to capture what happened in order to show the selective enforcement she alleges has repeatedly occurred, offers a different account of what took place after LAPD officers arrived.
She concurs that officers asked both parties to shut off the amplified music, but said that as the DJ at the first (or Black party) was using the microphone to tell people to go home, police returned.
“… they came back more forcefully; more angrily and demanded that the party shut down,” noted Pierce, who said she then went over to the other party to see if they had been asked to shut down. They had not.
After returning to the “Black” party (a description she uses simply for clarity) Pierce heard a commotion and then saw several officers escorting the host, Nate Howard, out of the party.
She said there was frustration but no violence as this was taking place.
“The next thing I knew, someone had been tackled by the police,” continued Pierce, who said that she throws parties at her house, located near 37th Place and Raymond Avenue, about two blocks west of the university and is used to the USC Department of Public Safety arriving to end them.
But when the LAPD gets involved, she sees a more aggressive, militarist approach and disparate treatment of African Americans.
That is one of the reasons she documented Sunday’s incident on social media. The other reason was because she said the photos, videos and other information posted by students shows how the police really acted and responded.
“If it had not been for the use of social media, it would have been whatever the LAPD said. Utilizing social media and Instagram showed how we are treated differently from other students.”
Pierce said security and party guidelines have changed significantly at and around USC in the wake of the killing of two Chinese student scholars and a shooting at Halloween that involved African American perpetrators.
DPS Chief Thomas said his initial contact about the Sunday incident came from students, who called him on his cell phone. He in turned called his officers on the scene, who connected him with the LAPD supervisor there.
What has to happen now, said the USC chief is an investigation of why his officers were not allowed to take the lead in the situation, which is what typically happens in such instances.
“I would prefer my officers take the lead, but it if happens in the city of Los Angeles, the LAPD has jurisdiction.
“It’s not something that has to be formally codified,” continued Thomas “but our officers, in a lot of ways, have a better knowledge of the students.”
The USC security chief said that while he was not at the scene of the Sunday event, a better approach could have and should have been considered.
Thomas said among the proposed changes that have been suggested are for USC students to hold more events on campus; that a joint team consisting of one LAPD officer and one DPS officer in plainclothes respond to excessive noise calls.
Additionally, Thomas said they want students to be “good neighbors” by informing people around them that a party is being held, and also let the Department of Public Safety know as well.
“They have to be mindful of what the community is expecting,” said Thomas, who noted that if students inform his office of the party and leave a contact number for the host, some complaints could possibly be handled with a phone call.
Thomas said he also wants to encourage students to interact more with the community and for LAPD and Department of Public Safety officers to interact with Black students in non-traditional ways that would enable them build bridges and become more familiar with African American culture.
In order to avoid just imposing such changes, Thomas said a task force consisting of students, his department, the LAPD and community members is being set up. Among the goals are working to dispel the perception that African Americans are being racially profiled.
City News Service also contributed to this story.