The Los Angeles Police Department is under scrutiny again. This time it's for sending almost 80 officers to break up a college house party. Most of the party goers were African-American students from the University of Southern California.
USC senior Nate Howard organized the party the LAPD shut down. At a protest on campus Monday he condemned the response.
"Seventy-plus officers?" he said. "What else was going on at that time in the community that you needed to be at a party of students getting ready to graduate?"
Howard says LAPD sent officers in riot gear and a helicopter to break up his party after they received noise complaints. Students were handcuffed, detained, and six were arrested. Howard says it was a peaceful event: registered with campus police, student IDs checked at the door — no fights, no guns — just black college kids having fun.
"And here we have LAPD who are still trying to make us live in 1963!" Howard said. "Brothers like me go to college, they go to college, they look like me, they look like us! Here we are!"
Surrounding him were about 100 students, mostly black and Latino, some holding signs that read, "We are scholars not criminals."
Just a day after that student protest, a panel of LAPD officers, USC campus police, city and university officials addressed a crowd squeezed into a 1200-capacity auditorium on campus.
"What I'd like to do before we move forward is really address the race issue," said LAPD Captain Paul Snell. He spoke to a room so packed, people were being turned away at the door.
"We have looked at this and we do not believe that this was race-based," he said.
Snell said his officers responded to a noise complaint and felt threatened, so they called for help. Routine. But when it was time for audience questions, white USC students got up and said it was all about race. Sarah Tither-Kaplan, a senior at USC, was partying with friends across the street. No one there was arrested.
"My house was treated with respect and the only difference between the two parties was that racial component. And if you're going to deny that, then I'm sorry, I'm just not going to stand for it," said Tither-Kaplan.
USC is in south LA, surrounded by a poor black and Latino neighborhood. Police brutality led to the '92 riots there, which were mentioned a number of times during the forum. Many said the issue is bigger than one house party — it's about racial profiling. There's a history of that kind of policing in south LA.
Commander Bill Scott of LAPD's South Bureau stopped taking questions to ask one: "How many people — just by a show of hands — think this incident was based on race."
Virtually every hand in the auditorium went up. One woman asked if she could raise two.
"We take that seriously and that really matters to us," Scott said. "And the hands that I saw were white hands, black hands, brown hands, everybody in the room. So that means something to us."
Scott says there's an investigation in progress and that he doesn't want to see an incident like this repeated.
As for those arrested, they've been released and their charges may or may not be dropped, but their responsibilities as students haven't gone away.
Finals at USC start today.
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