Video from the scene, courtesy of USC Black Student Assembly.
Students, alumni, faculty and community members voiced their concerns at an emotional open forum between the Dept. of Public Safety and the Los Angeles Police Department Tuesday evening in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Ballroom, which was filled to capacity.
The ballroom reached capacity at 750 students and an additional 200 students were turned away at the door.
The forum was organized in response to events at an off-campus student graduation party on 23rd and Hoover streets early Saturday morning where six students were arrested by more than 79 LAPD officers.
Students participated in a campus sit-in Monday at Tommy Trojan from noon to 4 p.m. to protest against the excessive force used by more than 79 LAPD officers in response to the noise complaint.
The forum was moderated by Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law Jody Armour. Panelists included Capt. Paul Snell of the LAPD Southwest Division, Inspector General Alex Bustamante, Cmdr. Bill Scott of LAPD, Chief John Thomas of DPS, Commanding Officer of Operations South Bureau Bob Green and USC Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Jackson participated in the discussion.
Rikiesha Pierce, a senior majoring in sociology, was one of the key organizers and was the first to speak at the event. After she published an article on racial profiling in the community, Pierce was contacted by Thomas and Snell, who collaborated with her to hold the forum.
“When students are being humiliated by their community law enforcement, there is a fundamental problem there and, even deeper, no one said nothing,” Pierce said. “This meeting was an attempt at reconciliation and at collaboration.”
The event opened with the presentation of a compilation of videos recorded by students at the scene of the incident. Video clips showed students being handcuffed by police and even one female student crying out in pain as she was handcuffed on the ground.
“That was a very sobering video,” Jackson said. “It really brings focus to this discussion and helps, for those of us who weren’t there, visualize what occurred and how our students were put into a very vulnerable position.”
The host of the party Nate Howard, a senior majoring in communication who was arrested Saturday morning, began to cry as he emphasized that it is up to the millennial generation to work together and change the current situation. He received a standing ovation after stressing the need for unity to correct the flaws of law enforcement.
“I have a voice and I spoke it. It’s up to our generation,” Howard said. “We have to move on for something bigger.”
Armour asked both DPS and LAPD officers and representatives questions about issues regarding racial profiling and the social consequences of race-based judgements. LAPD responded saying that police placed a distress call because they believed their safety was in danger.
“We do not believe at this point that there were any indications that this was race based,” Snell said. “What I would like focus on now is how we can move forward. We do not want this to happen again.”
The majority of audience members rose their hands when Scott asked if they believed the response from LAPD was race-based.
When asked about the support the students who were arrested can expect to receive from the university, Thomas said that he is in dialogue with the students and their parents to make sure that they are cared for and that they will not have to pay bail. Jackson responded that he is not in favor of the current charges being pressed against the students.
“The key for us right now with respect to the students is to give them as much support as we possibly can and to advocate, from my perspective, that these charges should be dropped,” Jackson said.
Updated on May 8th at 6:30 P.M.
President C. L. Max Nikias released a statement Wednesday evening responding to the events at the party. He said he has been updated by his senior staff since early after the incident.
“I had complete confidence in my leaders as they fully briefed me in advance on their discussions with student leaders and the plan for last night’s forum,” Nikias said in a statement. “I was pleased that there was an opportunity for an open dialogue and for people to express concerns.”
Nikias said that he remains optimistic about the future relations between the university and its students.
“We are confident we will move ahead from this issue in an even more productive and positive,” Nikias said.
At the forum, students and the parents of the arrested students proceeded to spend an hour giving testimonies of their experiences during the night of the incident. They expressed love for their university but also stated the desire for DPS and LAPD to actively create the open discussion they talked about. Students also yelled out from the crowd asking where President Nikias was during this open forum.
Evan Vujovich, a senior majoring in music industry who lives in the house across the street that hosted a party at the same time, said that the police did not address his party first, which refuted previous reports.
“Our party ended but we were not asked to disperse, we were not asked to go home, we were not pushed out of our party that was also peaceful,” Vujovich said. “Our party was equally loud, had at least as many people and our party wasn’t even registered with DPS.”
Jason Sneed, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law and one of the students who was arrested, addressed the social media movement that helped gather interest in the event. The hashtag #USChangeMovement was a trending topic in the Los Angeles area on Twitter while the forum was still in progress.
“We’re here today based off of facebook, emails and Twitter,” Sneed said. “If we can create a movement based on social media, how much more powerful can we be?”
Photos by Shoko Oda