Three incidents of police violence caught on tape that emerged last week have renewed a decades-long controversy over how the Los Angeles Police Department conducts itself.
One incident, captured on a cellphone, involved 20-year-old Ronald Weekley Jr., who police officers said was skateboarding on the wrong side of the street in Venice. Weekley refused to stop, so the police tackled him. One officer struck him in the face.
Another video video shows two officers handcuffing a woman and slamming her to the ground after she was pulled over for holding a cellphone while driving. The woman, a San Fernando Valley nurse, suffered bruises to her face and body.
A third incident, which happened in July but only came to light last Thursday, involved the death of a South L.A. woman. On July 22, Alesia Thomas dropped her two children off at the LAPD’s Southeast Area station because she felt her drug addiction rendered her unfit to take care of them. Later that night, officers returned to her house to arrest her on suspicion of child endangerment.
During the arrest, one of the five officers restraining Thomas threatened to kick her in the genitalia if she did not comply, according to the Los Angeles Times. Moments later, the officer made good on her threat, an act that has been confirmed by LAPD Cmdr. Bob Green. Thomas later stopped breathing in the backseat of a patrol car.
These kinds of infractions aren’t foreign to college students. In fact, Weekley was a college student — and he was arrested for something dozens of USC students are reprimanded for.
As college students, a group frequently targeted by law enforcement, and as members of the wider L.A. community, USC students should be wary of emerging reports of LAPD brutality.
Police corruption is not a new problem in Los Angeles. LAPD’s history is one of scandalous incidents, such as the infamous 1991 beating of Rodney King.
Yet the integrity of the LAPD has improved in recent years, such as an internal investigation launched this spring that, for the first time in LAPD history, found that an officer had engaged in racial profiling, according to the Los Angeles Times. The question remains, however, whether LAPD has improved enough. It is a detriment to the university if the community’s police department continues to perpetuate racism, sexism or any other kind of discrimination.
The recent violent altercations caught on video suggest that considerable progress still needs to be made.
While it is unlikely we, as college students, will find ourselves in such scenarios, the behavior of our public servants still affects our well-being. Maybe we won’t get arrested for child endangerment — but what about speeding, jaywalking, noise complaints, trespassing or underage drinking? What about those students who were involved in the Occupy movement — was it just luck that they didn’t end up unjustly pepper-sprayed like the students at UC Davis? A contingent of ’SC students attends the Los Angeles May Day protest every year, which has at times involved police assault on protestors.
A police department that fosters mistrust in the community directly affects USC students. The more police officers break the rules, the more they undermine the improvements they’ve made and the more they reduce their capacity and authority to protect civilians and to fight crime. This holds particularly disastrous implications in areas like USC, where crime rates, and thus the need for protection, are higher.
LAPD might have made considerable progress since the Rodney King beating, but it still has a long way to go. For the time being, college students need to be on their guard to ensure that Angelenos’ rights are respected. That means knowing what police can and cannot lawfully do, speaking out against incidents of police violence and — honestly — staying out of trouble. The police are commissioned to protect us, but sometimes they necessitate we protect ourselves.
Francesca Bessey is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies and international relations. Her column, “Open Campus,” runs Wednesdays.