USC should apologize to its black students (and get its own police)

As regular readers of this page know, I’m not a great fan of the way that USC has responded to security problems.  We have over-reacted in a top-down manner that has unnecessarily changed the peace and quiet that should dominate a college campus.   USC has always been a very open campus, and our new fences and gates and security panjandrums are a knee-jerk reaction. Maybe some of these measures make sense, but changing the physical and social shape of  any community, let alone a creative, scholarly community, takes time. Yes, USC is a private university, and it’s private property, and they can do what they want. But too much of the lockdown, rules-oriented nonsense can also discourage students, families, visitors, the elite faculty we hope to attract and retain, and donors.  We’ll see.

In any case, NPR and the LA Times picked up the story about USC DPS and the LAPD’s differential treatment of a loud party of white kids versus a party of black kids. Neon Tommy, our on-campus news source, published the names and videos of some of the students involved, whose lawyers have subsequently warned them not to talk to the press. Since I empathize with the students, I don’t link to the video stories, but I’ve watched the videos, and the truth is: these are students USC can be really proud of.

Most of the litigation, I assume, is going to be directed at the LAPD. Plenty of folks are all over arguing that, before taking  a position, we should “wait and see and avoid she said, he said.” In the case of USC here, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that a group of OUR students felt targeted and disrespected.  We should signal that we support them in their pursuit of justice with the LAPD.

And we should get our own campus police force. Right now we have hired security–armed security–that calls in the LAPD for instances where arrests may need to be made.

I say this as a USC professor and LA City property tax payer: I don’t want the LAPD responding to college parties. They have other stuff to do on Saturday nights in LA.  They have a proven record of brutality towards black residents.  I know they’ve enacted extensive reforms. But just don’t even. It takes a long time to fix a record like this, if you ever really do.

Campuses are tricky places to police, and campus police make plenty of mistakes, as the UC Davis fiasco demonstrates. But our current approach is not working.

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