A Tale of Two Parties:

LAPD Brutalizes, Arrests Black Students At USC Graduation Party

May 19, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The following letter was sent from a reader:

Early Saturday morning, May 4, a graduation party attended mainly by African-American University of Southern California (USC) students was descended upon by 79 LAPD cops in full riot gear, many brandishing batons, a helicopter overhead. After barricading the adjoining streets they shut down the party, brutalized and arrested six students, then formed a cordon that reached entirely across the street and forced the students five blocks down the street before they were allowed to get away. A male student had his shoulder blade fractured while being arrested; a female student had bruises on her arm and hip from her arrest.

The police had supposedly been responding to a noise complaint; the DJ at the party turned down the sound, but the cops weren't satisfied; they shut down the party and arrested the party's host. When the students protested, the cops called in massive force.

In no time social networks were lighting up with videos and tweets about the attack; and videos started going up on YouTube. One of them had been viewed 189,000 times by the end of the week. In it the student says, "I want you to witness… LAPD right now. We were having fun at a college party. No one had a gun, it was straight up college students. ID's were checked [by the host].… I want you to realize there are 79 LAPD officers right now." In a second video the same student is walking in front of the wall of cops telling them "I am a scholar, better believe that. I am not a criminal, better believe. I'm just out here having fun. This is real racism. You better believe that."

It turns out there was another graduation party that night happening directly across the street—only this one was attended mainly by white students. Their party was not shut down; they were told to lower the sound and to go inside "to be safe." These students were then given a rare window—a "ringside seat"—to a glimpse of what "racial profiling" and police brutality look like when visited on the masses of Black and other oppressed people in this country—or in this case, even on those about to graduate from a prestigious university.

One of the white students at this party said, "The attitude of the police officers toward the two parties was completely different. It was absurd. I couldn't believe it." At the campus forum several days later another white student said: "I saw my brothers and sisters… treated like criminals. But not just criminals, worse than that, they were herded like animals." And yet another white student said, "They were degraded, humiliated, and insulted and called names… thrown to the ground and injured." One of the Black students said a student from the other party joined them as they were being forced down the street by the police cordon that night, he was so angry at what the police were doing.

USC is a private university with almost 18,000 undergraduates. It is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 25 colleges in the country, with a reputation as a conservative campus. USC is located in South Central L.A., surrounded by a poor Black and Latino neighborhood tightly and brutally policed by the LAPD. Police brutality led to the '92 Rodney King rebellion there—a fact mentioned a number of times at a forum held a few days later to talk about the incident.

The LAPD has been carrying out a campaign of massive criminalization, even demonization of Black and Latino youth in this area for years. At one point many years ago there were reports that the police were demanding that young children riding their bikes had to carry proof of ownership or their bikes would be taken from them. In part this has been in response to the increased pressure to gentrify more of the surrounding areas as students search further from the campus for affordable housing. In April 2012, two USC international students, both from China, were shot and killed in one of these areas. And last Halloween four students were shot while attending a party on campus; police believe the shooter was not a student and came from the surrounding community. The LAPD has used these incidents as an excuse to ratchet up their harassment even more.

There is a certain belief, an understanding, that if you make it to USC, or any of the other elite universities in America, you're on your way to a privileged position in this society, as long as you don't mess up. For Black and other students of oppressed nationalities who make it there, particularly those who have come out of poorer, inner-city areas, graduating from one of these universities essentially means you've "made it"; wherever you choose to apply your knowledge, skills and position. And these are also the schools that the children of those who are already coming from the upper middle strata from the oppressed nationalities attend as well.

This sheds light on why what the students experienced at the hands of the LAPD that night—or witnessed from across the street—struck such deep emotions among the Black and other oppressed nationality students; as well as among many of their white friends and classmates. As one Black student wrote:

"Instead of studying for the last final of my undergraduate career, I am writing this letter in protest of the University of Southern California's latest atrocity…. I did not attend last night's party, but I could hear the helicopter circling from my dorm room over a mile away. When the Facebook posts and photos started appearing on my news feed around 2:30 a.m., I had flashbacks to an era I wasn't even alive to suffer through. I was too scared to go outside, legitimately fearing that an officer would see me and arrest me for being Black and inquisitive. I can only imagine how my peers felt when they saw over 20 LAPD patrol cars pull up and release 79 officers to end a peaceful, congratulatory party."

And a white student from D.C. whose parents work for the government told Revolution of his deep concern for his two Black friends arrested at the party, one for a misdemeanor, the other for a felony. He talked about a multinational business they both hoped to work for; saying they would never hire someone with this kind of bust on their record.

An extremely ugly lesson was taught to all these students by the LAPD in those early morning hours; the reality that there is no escape from the way in which Black and other oppressed peoples as a whole will continually be faced with forms of degradation and oppression old and new; no escape short of a revolution powerful and fundamental enough to sweep this system and its centuries of brutal white supremacy off the stage, and into the pages of history. Long ago Malcolm X cut to the bone when he posed this short quiz: "What do they call a Black person with a PhD? A n*gger." And Bob Avakian speaks powerfully to this reality in his statement "Three Strikes…"

Students Organize Sit-In, and Major Campus Forum

Despite rain, and the start of finals, more than 100 students took part in a sit-in from noon to 4 p.m. on campus. Students held up signs like "79 cops," and "I'm a scholar, not a criminal!" The student who hosted the party addressed the protesting students, describing how he had been pushed by two cops before being handcuffed and arrested. He said "… my white brothers and sisters were having a party across the street. They told them to stay in the house and be safe, that they were going to handle us across the street, as if we were the problem." A white student was holding a sign saying; "I was at the party on 23rd Street across the street, why wasn't I arrested?"

The top section of the L.A. Times front page Tuesday morning featured a large photo of the sit-in; the caption pointed out that students from both graduation parties felt the incident was an example of LAPD racial profiling. Coming only a few months after the rampage by ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner had drawn attention far and wide to his charge, from someone who'd been on the "inside," that the LAPD was as racist and brutal as it had been at the time of the 1992 Rodney King rebellion, if not worse—the actions of the LAPD were again making these charges of racial profiling and brutality inescapable.

This set the stage for a major forum held at the USC Campus Center Tuesday night. The room was packed; and hundreds were unable to get in as over a thousand students, along with faculty, administrators and people from the community, came out. The USC president did not attend the forum and instead issued a statement that took no position at all on what had happened to the students at the hands of the LAPD, which only added to the anger and frustration of nearly all who read it.

On the panel were several LAPD officials, including Commander Bill Scott, Deputy Chief Bob Green, and Captain Paul Snell; a representative of campus security; and city and university officials. The forum was moderated by a black USC law professor. The first hour was taken up by the officials of the LAPD attempting to justify what they did that night; believing their lives were in danger. And then they reported their findings to the audience: "We've looked at this really thoroughly, and there is no indication that it was race-based." And they went on to say that "While we will diligently examine whether that [charge of racial profiling] is true or not, in the vast majority of incidents, police officers are just responding to behavior."

After an hour of this, the students and others in the audience finally got to speak; and from here the forum got increasingly emotional. The party's host was allowed to speak first. Halfway through he broke into tears as he made clear this was a product of the racial profiling that is taking place in Black communities generally. And he said repeatedly, "This is about more than us" and called on his generation, the "millennials," to take this battle on.

The student who'd hosted the party across the street spoke out: "The only difference between those 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." (ABC News) As more and more students took the mike, the reality that what happened was a product of the all-encompassing oppression and degradation of oppressed Black and other minority nationalities nationwide could not be kept out. Even the moderator had told the audience that he has three teenage sons, and he agonizes every time they leave the house about what might happen to them. At times the audience had to be cautioned to stop the outbursts.

Near the end of the night, LAPD Commander Scott asked the students to raise their hands if they believed the incident was based on race. Practically the entire audience raised their hands. The organizer of the party across the street said afterwards; "The hands that I saw were white hands, black hands, brown hands, everybody in the room, so that means something to us."

As the students poured out afterwards, there was no sense of satisfaction that anything of substance had been accomplished, as far as changing the LAPD. As the school year comes to a close, if anything, the tension is greater than it had been on the way in.


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