Claudius E. Gaines III, a black UCLA facilities employee, is alleging he was a victim of racial profiling during an arrest made by university police officers on Aug. 27.
The facts are currently in dispute. Yet in spite of this, it would be foolish to brush off the magnitude of the allegations being made. Incidents of this kind can and should awaken the vigilance in protecting the constitutionally entrenched safeguards that are our civil rights as well as our commitment to combating the institutional structures that impede on those rights.
In the wake of Gaines’ allegations of racial profiling, this board believes there is more to be done by the UCPD. The ways in which the UCPD has responded to similar incidents in the past speaks volumes about its unwillingness to even acknowledge that racial profiling is a problem.
In July, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David S. Cunningham III reached a $500,000 settlement with the University of California after filing an excessive force complaint against two UCPD officers when they pulled him over for a seat belt violation. He claimed the officers shoved him against the side of his car, handcuffed him and placed him in the backseat of the patrol car. The settlement includes continued training for UCPD officers on issues including “understanding diversity, bias, public engagement and the use of force.”
In a statement responding to the settlement, the Federated University Police Officers Association said that it disagrees with the settlement, claiming that the officers involved were cleared of charges in an internal investigation. The police officers’ union also disagreed with the suggestion that “the officers involved are in need of additional training on diversity and use of force,” although the union “fully support(s) quality police service and cultural sensitivity.”
Again, we point to the gravity of the situation: It is not merely “sensitivity” that people expect of their law enforcement officers; it is a genuine commitment to building trust with the community they serve and righting systematic wrongs that inhibit our civil liberties.
In the past, students have voiced concerns about the UCPD and racial profiling. In March, the Afrikan Student Union asked the UCLA community to share its interactions with the police, when the group began compiling a database of racial profiling and police misconduct incidents by UCPD. In May, Alex Mercier, a member of ASU and former undergraduate student government candidate for the LET’S ACT! slate, ran for Facilities commissioner on the Undergraduate Students Association Council with a platform that included improving relations between the UCLA community and UCPD.
The truth is, it would be absurd to claim there aren’t legitimate grounds for concern, or good reasons for raising questions when allegations of racial profiling arise. And it would be negligent to believe we are free of the taint of racial bias and discrimination. We are not, and we have come too far along in raising our collective consciousness about oppression and race to still hold onto the mistaken belief that we now exist in a post-racist era in which race no longer shapes our experiences.
No one is asking UCPD to be single-handedly ready with a magic solution to the difficult and complex problem that is racism. But realizing law enforcement has to operate with the challenges of racism that pervade our everyday lives is crucial to progress.