Students were encouraged to stand up for their legal rights at a workshop led by the Los Angeles Community Action Network at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Wednesday night.
The Know Your Rights event, sponsored by the #USChangeMovement, Alpha Phi Alpha and the Political Student Assembly in partnership with the Black Student Assembly and Undergraduate Student Government, was organized to teach students and community members how to respond to interactions with police, as well as create more transparency in law enforcement.
“Students should have the knowledge and responsibility to know the law, and bridge the gap between the public and law enforcement,” said Tandia Elijo, assistant director of the #USChangeMovement and outreach director of PSA.
Issues of racial profiling and excessive police force have been a common topic of discussion at USC in light of last year’s Halloween shooting and the May 4 incident. Speakers at the Know Your Rights event included LA CAN members, lawyers and a Los Angeles Police Department officer who gave students tips on how to respond to officers and ensure their rights are not violated.
“It’s important to know what your rights are and assert them in a nonthreatening way,” attorney John Raphling said.
Despite the focus on racial profiling, Katie Gavin, a junior majoring in music and a #USChangeMovement board member, stressed the importance of the topic for students of all backgrounds.
“White students may think this issue is not important to them but if you are a member of the community and sharing this space, it’s your responsibly to not be a passive part of the system,” she said.
Many students in attendance reported having negative experiences with law enforcement officials, and were interested in learning what they could do to prevent similar situations in the future.
“I was at the infamous party on May 4 last year and saw the whole thing happen, so I think this workshop is a good idea if a situation like that were to happen again, but it can be avoided if we educate ourselves,” said Tomi Akingbola, a sophomore majoring in human biology and biological sciences.
In order to contend with instances of abusive police force, LA CAN civil rights organizer and community watchman General Dogan spoke about the power of documentation. He said that documentation is one of the key factors when trying to prove a case of police brutality or racial profiling.
“Students have to document what is going on. They have together and say this isn’t what we came to school for,” Dogan said. “You need to be armed with the right equipment: a video camera and clipboard.”
Jeremy Gross, a senior majoring in political science and business administration, said he felt he had been a victim of abusive power in a recent altercation with a DPS officer, and felt that it was important to learn how to prevent his rights from being violated.
“Since it’s almost inevitable that you will end up in a situation with the police at some point in your life, knowing your rights makes it more likely that the situation will work out in your favor,” Gross said.
LAPD Officer Anthony Pack spoke to students about his own experiences being profiled by officers and tried to send the message that he and other officers are working to change the situation.
“Where I grew up, I never trusted police either,” Pack said. “But I wanted to be the person to change that as an African-American officer.”
Throughout the conversation, Pack and Dogan both stressed that knowing one’s legal rights is crucial in order to stand up to law enforcement as well as to adequately report police misconduct.
“We want to bring awareness to police brutality and racial profiling,” Dogan said. “It a bigger issue than one school, one incident and it needs to be stopped.”
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