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USC Campus Discussion Of Racial Profiling Years In The Making

Jacqueline Jackson |
May 7, 2013 | 1:30 p.m. PDT


The discussion of racial profiling at USC is long overdue. (Faith Jessie)
The discussion of racial profiling at USC is long overdue. (Faith Jessie)
Yesterday's sit-in at the University of Southern California (USC) showed that there must be change. There must be change not only in the methods USC's campus security officers and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers handle specific incidents on USC's campus and how law enforcement officers throughout the U.S. respond to the communities they serve, but also in our methods of communication as members of society.

The USChangeMovement started out as a journey for those currently involved in organizing this week's events. Given the LAPD's sordid history with communities of color, it is important to acknowledge the significance and promise of this moment. While many believe that this week's meeting between the LAPD, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and USC's administration is simply a reaction to the LAPD's selective enforcement and use of excessive force during a house party last Friday, the meeting had been planned far before the incident on the night of May 3-May 4 unfolded. The need for the meeting had been realized even before a similar incident occurred in April (a Neon Tommy opinion piece published about the event incidentally received an overwhelming response from concerned students, parents, community leaders and USC alumni).

The incident on the night of May 3-May 4 served as simply the icing on the cake, bringing unequal treatment of students to the forefront of the Trojan family's consciousness. Students are not upset that the party was shut down. Students of the USC community feel taken aback by the response of the LAPD. Students and community members are gravely concerned about the LAPD's selective enforcement and use of excessive force. Images of the LAPD's actions that night, shared across social media networks, went viral after Lamar Gary posted a video of the incident on YouTube. After its release, USC students began organizing to bring to light the injustices they witnessed and experienced as members of both the USC and the Los Angeles community. Their message is clear: the LAPD's response to the party that occurred on the night of May 3-May 4 was not the first sign of racial profiling by law enforcement, either in the Los Angeles community or at USC; and something needs to be done about it.

Minority students at USC have been bringing the issue of racial profiling to the university's attention for years, especially as campus security became an ever-greater concern for the administration and their policies reflected that concern. Members of the university community are asked to show their ID and state their reason for being at the university, and they watch their friends being questioned upon entering the campus. In 2010, members of the Latino Student Assembly (LSA) echoed the need for a discussion of and change within this system of law enforcement. Students questioned DPS's stricter response to minority students in terms of ID checks and other forms of harassment. Three years later, students are still organizing for change. Rikiesha Pierce, one of the organizers of this week's events, took to Facebook to remind everyone why these kinds of events are necessary: "Our goal is not the damnation of a misguided policy, approach or officer. Our goal is progress, resolution and change."

Another goal is to establish a bridge between USC students and USC's surrounding community to communicate and alleviate situations of racial profiling from occurring in the future. Issues of selective enforcement (illustrated by the LAPD's different responses to two noise complaints on the same street on the night of May 3-May 4), issues of racial profiling embedded deep within our society's framework must be addressed openly, honestly and collectively. In an interview, Lamar Gary expressed his position on the event: "We want to approach this with peace and intellect. While the event was traumatizing, we have to move forward by building a better relationship between the students and law enforcement."

What students are stressing is that this week's events involve more than just a rant about the LAPD breaking up a house party. Sarah Bowie, who attended the party on the night of May 3-May 4, said, "There are criminals in this community. Absolutely. I am certain that the LAPD and DPS face insurmountable challenges related to those criminals. However, the students at this party were not criminals and yet they were treated like worse than criminals, they were herded like animals, beaten, arrested, insulted, and quite frankly, abused." she added, "We were all hurt and terrified, not by each other, but by those sworn to protect us. We can recover from this, but not before changes are made." This week's events are meant to bring to light a grave concern shared by both the USC and Los Angeles communities. They provide opportunities for students greatly affected by the most recent incidents of racial profiling to come together and work to produce sustainable change. Most importantly, however, they provide opportunities to create a bridge between the USC community, the Los Angeles community and law enforcement that has been decades in the making.

USC alumna and former Norman Topping Scholar Bernadette Gholami sent her support: "As a USC alumna, it saddens me that this is even an issue that needs to be addressed. I whole-hardheartedly support this cause. For many of us, our pursuit of higher education is to end cycles of criminalization among others, yet here we are. Change is necessary. Students need to feel and be protected. I am proud and grateful for the students who brought this movement to life. The students brave enough to not let their voices be drowned out. We are scholars, not criminals." Several organizations at USC, including the Black Student Assembly (BSA), SOLID USC and the LSA created these events with an understanding of deeply-rooted racial conflicts. This week's events are rooted in history, and are conducted with a clear sense that the power should and does rest with the people.


Jacqueline Jackson is the Vice President and Co-Founder of SOLID USC. Reach her here; follow her here.



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