DPS, Latino Student Assembly discuss race
Posted March 9, 2010 at 11:44 pm in News
When Luis Garcia Rico was riding his bike to Wing Stop one night for a quick dinner during finals, he saw flashing lights behind him. Confused, he pulled over at Jefferson Street and Vermont Avenue. A Los Angeles Police Department officer then proceeded to handcuff him, search him and give him a âfix-it ticketâ for not having a light on his bike.
Following the incident, Rico, a junior majoring in political science and American studies, noticed a number of bicyclists riding without bike lights who were not Â pulled over. He couldnât help but wonder: Was I targeted?
âIt became kind of blatant at that point, and I said, âOK, this isnât just about a bike light,ââ Rico said. âI couldnât help but think, âWere they looking for someone? Did they just want to mess with someone?â … Itâs kind of hard to trust the judgment they are doing the right thing.â
Ricoâs experience and others like it prompted a panel discussion Tuesday between members of the Latino Student Assembly and officers from USCâs Department of Public Safety and LAPD.
âIt came to [the Assemblyâs] attention that certain actions were taken by LAPD or DPS that seem to be unfair,â said Julian Tarula, political affairs director for LSA.
Sandra Cordero, a 2004 USC alumna, moderated the panel. The other panelists were DPS Assistant Chief John Thomas, LAPD Senior Lead Officer Sean Anderson, Tarula and Rico.
Tarula said LSA decided to hold the event to encourage dialogue between Latino students and law enforcement officers and fight misconceptions.
âA lot of students of color feel like DPS might be out there to get us,â Tarula said. âThere are [also] perceptions from DPS on the surrounding community that affect students that might look like students from the surrounding community.â
Rico said he has generally had a good relationship with DPS, but a number of small instances have made him feel uncomfortable.
âI feel like lines have been crossed, like getting I.D.ed on campus when Iâm just on the way back home from student meetings, just little things like that that make me feel like I donât belong,â Rico said. âItâs unfortunate that those kind of things happen because I know thatâs not every DPS officer; itâs just individuals who might have a criminalized view of brown folk, black folk, that are giving DPS as a whole a bad name.â
The panel discussed how law enforcement officers interact with diverse communities.
Anderson said cultural sensitivity training is part of the police academyâs program. Thomas, who previously worked with LAPD, noted that because of historically negative encounters between the LAPD and people of color, the police force has made a concerted effort to diversify its staff and improve its racial sensitivity.
âYou can actually look at the racial percentages in Los Angeles and they will mirror the LAPD,â Thomas said.
Anderson said the criteria for pulling people over and handcuffing them are different in each situation, but people tend to group the situations in a clump. When referring to Ricoâs case, he said officers face a dilemma in an area where there are a lot of young people biking who might not know that having a bike light is required under California law, considering some might be international students.
âThe officer is thinking, âam I going to stop all these people on their bikes versus just south or west of campus where people know they are supposed to have lights on their bikes?ââ he said.
Anderson admitted, however, that often situations like this are used as probable cause to talk to the person.
âThese encounters are never going to be perfect, people are never going to be completely satisfied and it is an issue. But these are the reasons why some of the things happen,â Anderson said.
Thomas said the issue is also in the studentsâ hands because there are resources for those who feel they have been unfairly stopped or targeted by LAPD or DPS.
âThe worst you can do is ignore your feelings and say nothing happened,â he said.
Thomas said there is an LAPD policy that if a person files a complaint that isnât frivolous, the department will investigate it; the concerned citizen will get a notification in writing that the situation is being investigated within 10 days. This policy could help students who feel they have been the victims of racial profiling, he said.
Both Thomas and Anderson agreed that one officerâs actions cannot reflect upon the whole organization.
âYou can expect that there are just some officers that donât have the greatest people skills,â Anderson said.
Thomas agreed, explaining that police inevitability have some biases based on their personal experiences
âPolice officers are humans too, youâre going to get good and bad. Our goal is that the community does not think [these incidents] reflect the entire force,â Thomas said.
Students said the event succeeded in opening a dialogue between law enforcement and students of color, but they said it will take more time and discussion to get at the heart of the problem.
âIt was a good start, but as far as anything coming out of it, I still see it as a long way down the road, and I think in order for anything to really happen, a lot more of these events have to happen and a dialogue needs to happen,â said Jacob âJuniorâ Robinson, a graduate student studying film production. âI still think that weâre just labeling things right now … weâre not tackling anything, weâre just putting a face on it.â