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LAPD's Response To College Party Evidence Of Racial Profiling

Rikiesha Pierce |
April 19, 2013 | 11:37 a.m. PDT

Guest Contributor

The LAPD's response to the party is evidence of a wider problem of racial profiling. (Rikiesha Pierce)
The LAPD's response to the party is evidence of a wider problem of racial profiling. (Rikiesha Pierce)
On Friday April 12, 2013, nine Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) squad cars filled with officers dressed in full riot gear showed up to end a college house party hosted by students of color two blocks from the University of Southern California's (USC) University Park campus. The officers claimed that they were responding to a noise complaint, but their riot gear sent a different message. To those attending the party, the incident smacked of racial profiling.

The LAPD claimed that the party was outside USC’s Department of Public Safety's (DPS) jurisdiction, but this was not the case. The party was within DPS's jurisdiction, but DPS never attempted to shut the party down. DPS called the LAPD before approaching or speaking to the students. And, according to the officer in the video below addressing the issue of the riot gear: “When USC calls us, this is how we come.” Considering the LAPD's long, documented history of racism, many have questioned why USC would send LAPD in full riot gear to shut down a student party. Those attending the event were USC students. Instead of allowing DPS to fulfill its role as a mediator, USC sent the LAPD to handle the students—as if the students posed a danger to the community at large.



This incident took place directly across the street from my house, and it has had a tremendous impact on my personal feelings of security at my university. I am the first in my family to go to college. I am a Norman Topping Scholar, president and founder of a community service organization, a hip-hop feminist rapper. I should be able to depend on my university to help me feel safe and supported, not "othered," scrutinized, policed and threatened. I am not a criminal. But according to USC, DPS and the LAPD, either I am a criminal, or I look like one.

What happened on Friday night will forever be etched into my memory. I stood there with fellow campus leaders Debbie Rumbo and Jason Sneed, paralyzed by hopelessness, unable to help our fellow students and community members respond to this flagrant intimidation and the implicit message to other USC students that we do not belong, that we are the community’s—and distinctly the university’s—enemy.

The incident with the LAPD is one of many that has impacted the experiences of black students at USC. Ever since the shooting near the Campus Center on Halloween in 2012, the black community at USC has suffered an increased state of police surveillance beyond the usual “stop and frisk” or “show your ID” implications of non-university affiliations. At this year’s National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) Yard Show, an annual step-show hosted in McCarthy Quad, DPS sent four LAPD squad cars, constructed a fence to “barricade” students from non-students and refused to admit anyone not rsvp’d to the Facebook event created to promote the event. Ironically, the Yard Show took place two hours before USC’s new visitor policy was to take effect. Even with all of this, USC officials refused to allow music to be played above a low volume, ruining what for many first-year Trojans was to be their very first coming-out celebration as members of the Greek community. The worst part about this increased policing for a student of color is that a large number of USC’s DPS patrol officers are African American and Latino. So in essence, the officers are being trained to treat the students that look the most like them, like outsiders to the University.

USC has been largely ineffective in addressing this issue for students of color. Plain and simple, there is no “safe” place for students of color to party. With the weekly (even daily) parties on the Row and the high presence of LAPD officers traveling the Figueroa corridor, it would be logical to assume that students in this neighborhood have similar experiences with the LAPD and DPS. Yet, I have yet to attend a party on the Row that even received a warning from the police, let alone one that was forced to end early. But even those of us who have taken to the Row for our college social life have found it difficult to gain entry to some fraternity and sorority parties. It’s almost as though we are not welcome there. So, the quandary becomes threefold: black students cannot gather together without being harassed by law enforcement. At the same time, we are excluded from becoming a part of the broader USC community cultivated on the Row. And this problem is more than just a matter of “partying.” Black students are being excluded from generating valuable social networks, which could ultimately lead to professional relationship building, potential spousal attainment and even collaborative community improvement initiatives.

What is the recourse for black and brown students at USC? I decided to call DPS to get some firsthand information that I could provide to students looking to throw a safe house party. After being forwarded to three separate departments - Campus Activities, Student Affairs and back to DPS - I was told to register my party with the Watch Commander for the evening of the event. But I tried that approach three times before, and each time the party was shut down before 1:00 a.m. Do we post flyers for our neighbors to prevent any 911 calls? I tried that. Do we speak with our campus leadership for help working with the police to ensure our safety? I tried that at a community forum, but I didn’t get anywhere.

I guess the answer is simple: black kids are not allowed to throw house parties—except if they are lucky enough to be accepted into a white fraternity or sorority on the row (and we know how often that happens).

Though increased security regulations have had an obvious effect on the black students at USC, I am interested to hear stories of the negative experiences that white students have had as a result of these changes. Do they have the same effect on white students as they do on others? Or do we have a more systemic and institutionally driven anti-black and brown sentiment built into USC’s policies? I want to know the answers to these questions, because I know what it’s like to be seen through the lens of race—to be labeled a criminal in spite of all that I have done to change my life and the lives of people in my community. I know what it’s like to feel as though I have absolutely no power at all. Most unfortunately, however, is that as a student at a world class university that calls on us all to “Fight On,” I know what it feels like to be a second-class Trojan. And “ain’t nobody got time fo’ that.”


Guest Contributor Rikiesha Pierce is the President of SOLID USC. Reach her here; follow her here.



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