Commentary: A College Party With a Disturbing Message

A graduation celebration in Los Angeles demonstrates anew that there are stark differences in the way people are treated when race is in the equation.

Posted: 05/07/2013 01:18 PM EDT

There are so many examples in history and in contemporary society of the disparities in the way Black Americans are treated compared with the treatment afforded to white Americans. But in the age of Obama, many Americans earnestly believe that African-Americans are sufficiently advantaged and that no remedies are needed to address the historic issues of discrimination.

Now we see another vivid example of how two groups, one white, another Black and Latino, seem to meet with vastly different results for the same situation. At the University of Southern California this past weekend, there were two parties: One of them was attended by a largely African-American group of students. The other drew an overwhelmingly white clientele.

As is often the case with college parties, these two gatherings became loud, earning a sufficient degree of displeasure from neighbors and leading them to file a complaint with the police.

From that point, the disparities became shockingly clear. The largely white gathering was allowed to disperse without any drama. Police officers, the students said, advised them to simply “stay inside, keep it down and be safe.”

But the Black and Latino party drew a far different response from law enforcement officials. For one thing, they were told to shut down the event. Even more ominous, 79 members of the Los Angeles Police Department were dispatched to the scene. Before long, six students were arrested, mostly on misdemeanor charges (one received a felony charge of obstructing justice).

This was a party of college students where there was nothing more dangerous occurring than the sounds of music with a loud, pulsating bass line. No one was accused of any drug use, no firearms were being used and there was not even an altercation. Why would more than six dozen police officers be needed to end a college graduation gathering?

The answer lies in the way people of color are viewed by the larger society and, even more pointedly, by law enforcement officials. It is the kind of us-against-them mentality that has led to a policy under which hundreds of thousands of young Black and Latino men are stopped and searched every year by New York City police officers. Their only crime is that they existed as Black and Latino human beings. In some 95 percent of all cases where they are stopped, these young people have done nothing illegal.

And now these six students in Los Angeles have to engage lawyers and engage an odyssey with a criminal justice system that is not known for its warm embrace of people of color. For the hundreds of partygoers early last Sunday morning, they have been treated to an unsettling box seat to how injustice can seep into the college experience in a new millennium. For the broader community, in Los Angeles and beyond, it is yet another disturbing reminder that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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