More than 700 students turned up at USC's campus center for a forum Tuesday night to discuss a recent confrontation between students and Los Angeles police officers at an off-campus party attended mostly by students of color.
Last Friday night, Nate Howard said he set out to host the final party of his college career.
"We were having a good time, we were about to graduate," Howard said.
Then, at about 2 a.m. Saturday, LAPD officers showed up, responding to a noise complaint. According to police, they asked partygoers to keep it down, and then went across the street to another party to do the same. According to the police account, the first party was still noisy, so the officers returned to the building.
That's when things got ugly.
Capt. Paul Snell of LAPD's Southwest Division said at one point officers were surrounded by angry partygoers. He said at least one bottle was tossed at police. The officers called for backup, and a lot of units responded, some in riot gear, to shut down the party. Six students were arrested: four were accused of failure to disperse, two on suspicion of non-cooperation with the investigation.
A compilation of video taken of LAPD's response to the party was shown to start the meeting:
Students attending Tuesday's forum described the police response as excessive and attributed the heavy hand to the fact that the party consisted mostly of black and Latino students.
"We've looked at this, and there are no indications at this point that this was race based," Snell said.
Part of the meeting was live-streamed:
Students were not persuaded.
Sarah Tither-Kaplan said she was the hostess for the other party that night, across the street. where no one was arrested.
"These students were not treated with respect," Tither-Kaplan said. "My house was treated with respect. The only difference between the two parties was that racial component."
LAPD Deputy Chief Bob Green, who also attended the forum, said that the incident and tactics used will be thoroughly investigated by internal affairs and the Los Angeles Police Commission. He also said he's well aware of LAPD's history in South L.A., where USC is located.
Green said at the height of the crack epidemic in South L.A., LAPD felt their job was suppression.
"On Friday and Saturday nights in the mid-80s in South L.A., we'd bring in 300 extra cops to stop the violence," Green said. Police would flood the neighborhood, cracking down on everything from petty infractions like jaywalking to violent crimes.
"If there was a reason to book you, you got a booking number," Green said.
Then, he said, LAPD realized that strategy wasn't working.
"We've realized – and this transition is pivotal and ongoing because we need to change a culture – we work for you," Green said. "We're here to police this community with you."
Rickiesha Pierce, who attended the party where people were arrested, helped organize the forum. She said she believed Green and the command staff who've been talking with the community since the incident.
"When I talked to Chief Thomas and Capt. Snell, I felt the training, I felt they were hearing what I was saying," Pierce said. "But when the students spoke to the officers that night, they refused to respond to them."
Instead, she said, they were rude and dismissive.
"We wanted to be partners that night," Pierce said. "I walked to the line, and I tried to speak with officers. I tried to lend myself as a resource to you."
Pierce is part of a group of students who're working with LAPD and USC's campus security department to develop policies to prevent a recurrence of the weekend's events.
As of yet, it's unclear whether the six students arrested will face charges. All are out of custody.