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USC Students Allege History Of Racial Profiling By Campus Police

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A 2019 homecoming tailgate party hosted by a Black fraternity and a Latina sorority was surrounded by fencing and patrolled by DPS officers. Attendees said they did not see the same security measures at other tailgates on campus. (Monica Rivera)
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In the wake of protests following the killings of George Foyd and Breonna Taylor, there have been calls to re-examine patterns of profiling and cultures of bias within police forces. These calls aren’t limited to city police. At the University of Southern California, Black students and alumni have recounted disturbing incidents of racial profiling at the hands of USC’s Department of Public Safety. The students and alumni argue these interactions highlight a pattern of racial profiling by the campus police force.

This summer and fall, 19 current and former students were interviewed about their experiences with DPS. The investigation was conducted as part of the Beacon Project, a student journalism initiative supported by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The project is independent of the university's administration.

The stories told by Black students and alumni include repeated instances of being stopped on campus by DPS officers and asked to show identification, often while standing next to white students who were not asked to do the same. They also noted multiple instances in which parties and events with primarily Black crowds were shut down more often and quicker than parties attended by mostly non-Black students.

Sophomore Jonathan D’Aguilar told the Beacon Project:

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“When I come across DPS officers, I just put my head down or look the other way, because they question us more frequently. They watch us closely — more closely than they watch any other students on campus.”

Black students and alumni have approached the USC administration repeatedly in the past decade, asking for their issues with policing practices to be addressed, but those concerns have been met with little action beyond empty promises and the creation of ineffective task forces from the university, according to students and alumni interviewed for the story.

Now, in a moment of heightened public pressure to create tangible change for Black Americans, USC has rolled out a variety of plans to address racial discrimination on campus. These plans include the revitalization of a Community Advisory Board that will advise the university on how DPS should engage with the community.

Students and alumni worry, however, that these plans are not enough to combat what they view as deeply entrenched biases in DPS policing practices.

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