17 May 2013

USC: Riot Cops Raid Black Student Party

LOS ANGELES—In the early morning hours on May 4, University of Southern California (USC) students celebrating the end of classes were attending two off-campus parties across the street from each other. One party attracted mainly white students, the other mostly black and Latino students. When cops responded to complaints of noise, the former gathering was “treated with respect,” according to one participant, while the other was treated to a phalanx of 79 fully armed cops in riot gear, with a helicopter hovering overhead. The students “were herded like animals, beaten, arrested, insulted, and quite frankly, abused,” said one partygoer. It made no difference that the party had been registered with the university and that student IDs were checked at the door. Cops piled on top of students and assaulted them, inflicting multiple injuries. Six students were arrested and jailed overnight. “They were acting like they were going to war with us,” said Jason Sneed, one of the arrested black students. Now free on bail, they still face trumped-up charges, such as failing to disperse and interfering with the police. We demand: drop all the charges!

This cop rampage was a direct provocation against minority students, intended to send a graphic message of intimidation. But it did not go down without protest. On May 6, more than a hundred students held a sit-in on campus. The next day, at an open forum moderated by members of the USC administration and the LAPD, the 1,200-seat ballroom could not hold all the students, community members and alumni of all races who showed up to protest the cop attack, including attendees from both of the parties. For the campus administration, the forum was, in the words of an organizer, “an attempt at reconciliation and at collaboration” designed to head off any further protest. The LAPD, naturally, blamed the victims of the police brutality by claiming that “a can or bottle was thrown” and brazenly denying that the cop rampage was “race-based.” But when the LAPD’s South Bureau commander Bill Scott asked, “How many people—just by a show of hands—think this incident was based on race?” the hands of virtually everybody in the room shot up. One woman asked if she could raise two.

The events of May 4 were the latest in a string of police assaults and harassment of black and Latino students at USC. Just one month before, a party hosted by minority students was shut down by riot cops filling nine squad cars. When a student had the temerity to question a cop about his full riot gear, he replied, “When USC calls us, this is how we come.” In 2008, at least 75 LAPD officers in riot gear used clubs, smoke bombs, Tasers and pepper ball guns to shut down a block party. When a hundred of the partygoers held an impromptu sit-in on the street trying to hold off the police action, nine were arrested.

USC is located in South Central L.A., whose black and Latino residents are targets for the notorious LAPD. Especially over the past year, the city and campus cops have stepped up ID checks, stop-and-frisk manhandling and other daily harassment of minority students, and the university now shuts the gates to campus at 9 p.m. Through its enforcers, the USC administration is sending a message: neighborhood residents must stay out, and those black and Latino students who remain in school should understand they are second-class citizens at an enclave for the privileged (estimated annual costs for 2013 total over $62,000). Last year, blacks made up only 5 percent of USC students. We say, open the gates, open the classrooms: for open admission and no tuition with a state-paid living stipend for all! For the nationalization of the private universities under student-teacher-worker control—abolish the administration!

Nate Howard, the student who organized the party that was shut down, said, “Here we have LAPD who are still trying to make us live in 1963!” But it’s not just USC and it’s not just the cops. Black youth across the board are criminalized in this deeply racist capitalist society. Measured by quality of life, de facto segregation, chances for social advancement, etc., things for the vast majority of black people have only gotten worse since the upheaval against cop violence that shook the Watts ghetto in 1965, not far away from USC.

The deep resentment of police brutality is reflected in the sympathy among minority residents of L.A. for Christopher Dorner, the unhinged black ex-LAPD officer who was driven to homicidal vengeance against cops and their families by the racist treatment he received at the hands of his former employer. His manifesto describing the unabashed racism, corruption and sadism of the L.A. cops struck a chord for many. More than 20 years after the brutal cop beating of Rodney King, the city rulers and their media mouthpieces try to sow the myth that things have changed and there is now a kinder, gentler police force. But brutality and racial profiling can never be “reformed” out of the police. Enforcing the capitalist rulers’ racist “law and order” is part of their job of ensuring that a small number of exploiters keep their hands on the vast majority of society’s wealth.

The very few black students at elite private universities like USC are mainly drawn from the top echelons of black America or aspire to move into this stratum. The vast majority of white Americans, not to mention the poor and working-class residents of South Central, are priced out of this institution. While increasing numbers of ghetto youth are seen as expendable by the ruling class, capitalist society has a role for the so-called “talented tenth” of the black population, as token executives in corporations, black elected officials to keep a lid on the restless masses, professionals and so on. Yet they, too, are branded by the color of their skin and liable to themselves be targeted by the cops and courts. Understandably, “We are scholars not criminals” has become a rallying cry for the USC students in the wake of the police assault.

A prime example of how the oppression of black people cuts across class lines was the arrest of distinguished black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside his own home in 2009. As we observed at the time:

“That an eminent world-class scholar—who is on a first-name basis with the president, no less—can be subjected to such patently racist abuse speaks volumes about the condition of black people in this country, and it shows how little it has been changed by Obama’s election. The somber reality is that racial oppression is structurally embedded in American capitalism and will not be overcome short of socialist revolution.”

—“Obama’s ‘Change’ Is More of the Same,” WV No. 940, 31 July 2009

As revolutionary socialists, we actively fight against every manifestation of racist injustice. At the same time, the SL and Spartacus Youth Clubs seek to win students to the understanding that black freedom requires a thoroughgoing revolution made by the working class under the leadership of a Leninist vanguard party. We are looking for the few students who aim higher than their own advancement within a system of exploitation and oppression—those who seek a role in creating a completely different kind of society. 

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1024, 17 May 2013)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.