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L.A. Law Enforcement Continues To Disappoint

Ashley Yang |
June 4, 2013 | 10:30 p.m. PDT


The police used excessive force at the party. (Charles de Jesus/Wikimedia Commons)
The police used excessive force at the party. (Charles de Jesus/Wikimedia Commons)
Los Angeles law enforcement, you’ve done it again. First, you convene a discussion panel of LAPD officials to address racial profiling that offers absolutely no new information, and now you persist in pursuing criminal charges against college students whose only real crime was attending a house party populated primarily by racial minorities.

Six USC students were arrested on May 4, after LAPD’s attempt to shut down a party hosted and attended by students of color escalated into a hostile confrontation. Five were charged with misdemeanors and one with a felony. All of these charges were related to obstruction of justice or failure to disperse. 

The students felt that the police used execcesive force and exaggerated the level of danger the party posed due to the race of the attendees. LAPD maintains that their response was not race-based, and asserts that officers in riot gear arrived only after first responders called for help, when students started to throw beer cans at them.

LAPD’s response was highly unpopular amongst the general USC student body, sparking a sit-in at the steps of Tommy Trojan, a joint LAPD-DPS discussion panel to address racial profiling and campus security, and a protest (held in solidarity with the six arrested students) by USC students in front of the Central Arraignment Court in Downtown LA on May 30.

Our justice system shouldn’t base its decisions on who to prosecute on popular opinion. But in this case, the USC student body’s outcry against selective enforcement of the law and racial profiling has illuminated a critical underlying cause of the arrests: the May 4 partygoers’ encounter with the police would not have escalated to the point at which the police began making arrests, had first responders not irrationally believed that the party of students of color posed a greater danger than the party of mostly white students across the street. 

Such a hypothesis is congruent with past events that also bring racial profiling to mind: another house party, on April 12, also attended mostly by Black and Latino USC students was shut down in the exact same way by a large LAPD presence outfitted in riot gear. Furthermore, students of color report that campus security officers regularly scrutinize their presence on campus, especially at night.

Because entrenched stereotypes portray Black and Latino Americans as more likely to engage in violence and criminal behavior, the decision to aggressively respond with heavier force than would normally be prompted by a throng of boisterous college students and to make arrests may have, at least in part, been induced by fear of a violent encounter erupting or a belief in the innate lawless nature of the attendees. 

But even if we disregard the previous discussion of racism and social psychology, the fact still remains that the LAPD has neither offered evidence nor made an official statement in support of their claims that the police force deemed “excessive” by USC students was justified. At the joint LAPD-DPS discussion in the Tutor Center Ballroom on May 7, student leaders of the protest against LAPD played a video compilation of photos and short clips that those present at the party took of the police response. At no time was disorderly behavior on the part of students observed and all student witness accounts of the incident were in agreement that partygoers did not escalate the encounter.

In contrast, all LAPD has done is to continuously assert that their response was merited by the situation, while providing no detail and no support of their claims, effectively stonewalling the public’s need for transparency.  

Legally, the LAPD doesn’t owe us anything. They also don’t need to gain momentum the way that a student protest movement needs to in order to mount an effective challenge against a powerful government institution. But they should at least recognize the pain and distress that this event has caused the entire USC community, as well as our need to heal. 

Healing requires closure, and that is something that has continuously been denied us by perfunctory attempts to appease angry students and by the charges that still burden the lives of the six arrested. All of these events and all this discussion precipitated from an overly aggressive response to a common house party, something that occurs within college communities across the country. The six students aren’t guilty of some heinous crime, they can only be faulted for being young people who wanted to blow off steam before the stress of final exams, and who were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The City Attorney shouldn’t drop the charges against the six students arrested that night because it would be better for LAPD’s image; they should drop them because doing so would not only allow an entire community to move forward from what has been an academic year turbulent with tragedy, it would show the public that our legal justice system can humbly admit that its judgment is not infallible. 


Reach Columnist Ashley Yang here.



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