Author: Hoku Krueger
The recent on-campus arrest of a local community member by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Sept. 5 has sparked discussion on issues of diversity and tolerance among students and staff that culminated in a town hall meeting Monday.
Green Bean Barista Eda Olivas-Graham (senior) called Campus Safety during her shift to report the presence of an individual who made her uncomfortable. The report later led to the individual’s arrest.
Accounts of the scene differ, but some witnesses claim that the individual who entered the Green Bean was of Hispanic descent and displayed unusual behavior.
“I noticed that one gentleman was acting very peculiar, in that his mannerisms and the way he spoke and the way that he was repeating the same phrase over and over again were very peculiar, almost as if he was under the influence of something,” Olivas-Graham said.
Barista Jackson Beck (junior) was also on-shift at the time of the report.
“He was telling us all his ideas and conspiracies about the government,” he said. “Basically just sort of non-neurotypical comments.”
Beck does not believe that the individual was under the influence of any substance.
“It didn’t seem like his perception of things was different than it normally would be,” he said. “It seemed like he was pretty stable despite the fact that he was saying some really different, out-there stuff.”
Olivas-Graham reported the individual to Campus Safety due to what she considered increasingly aggressive mannerisms. According to her, the man raised his voice and began to use more hand gestures while still in the Green Bean.
The man left on his own accord while Olivas-Graham was on the phone with Campus Safety in the Green Bean break room.
Officer Wendy Carillo and another Campus Safety officer, responding to the call, located and questioned the man on Branca Patio. Carillo said that she could hear the man yelling before she entered the patio. According to her account, the individual began to cuss and repeat profanities when she and her partner made contact.
“When [the individual] would not comply with basic instructions and when [the Campus Safety officers] could smell alcohol on his breath, they handcuffed him,” Chief of Campus Safety Victor Clay said at the town hall meeting.
Carillo and her partner offered the individual the option of sitting in the air-conditioned Campus Safety car, but he declined. Because Campus Safety officers are not trained to accurately assess a person’s sobriety or mental ability, the responding officers called the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), according to Clay. The LAFD called the LAPD upon determining that the man was intoxicated.
The Campus Safety access policy webpage states that Occidental generally maintains a campus open to the community. Still, Assistant Dean for Community Engagement Ella Turenne notes that there are exceptions to this policy.
“The college is a private institution,” Turenne said. “Just like any private institution, we reserve the right to ask anyone to leave.”
The actions of Campus Safety were condemned by some students on campus, including the Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity (C.O.D.E.). In a statement published to its Facebook page Sept. 13, the group described the individual’s detainment and arrest from the views of anonymous eyewitnesses.
According to the statement, the man was not acting abnormally and was talking quietly to himself when Campus Safety handcuffed him. He was only let go after local law enforcement arrived on the scene, performed drug tests and had him sign a document claiming he had trespassed. Later in the statement, C.O.D.E. discussed the larger implications of the incident.
“The forceful removal of a man of color perceived to be differently abled from our campus on Saturday, Sept. 5 is a reminder that this campus is more than just unwelcoming of difference,” the statement reads. “Those in charge of maintaining the campus environment will, forcefully if necessary or not, actively exclude difference from pubic spaces under the pretense of ‘safety.'”
C.O.D.E. core member Abhilasha Bhola did not release the names of the statement’s contributors.
“I think there’s strength in collective action and that a lot of students have a belief in the strength of collective action,” she said.
While C.O.D.E.’s Sept. 13 statement argues that the arrest was unnecessarily forceful, Associate Dean of Students Tim Chang defended Campus Safety’s actions.
“Our first priority is making sure the community is safe,” Chang said. “To assume that this person was arrested based on race or ability is a bit offensive.”
To facilitate dialogue between students and staff, the Dean of Students Office hosted the hour-long town hall meeting in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Lounge in Pauley Hall Sept. 14. Approximately 70 members of the Occidental community attended the meeting, including several members of the Dean of Students Office, Clay and eight Campus Safety officers.
Interim-Assistant Dean for Intercultural Affairs Jonathan Grady invited those in attendance to ask questions, share concerns and offer suggestions to Occidental officials on how to respond to the incident. Students in attendance raised concerns that Campus Safety and Green Bean policies are not readily available to the Occidental community, particularly regarding the extent of Campus Safety’s ability to detain individuals. Students were also concerned about a perceived lack of training policies for Green Bean staff in discerning between uncomfortable and unsafe situations.
Several witnesses also offered accounts that contradicted Carillo’s.
Olivia Davis (junior) was sitting behind the man when Campus Safety approached him. They claim that the individual was not yelling and that the officers did not ask him to leave. Instead, they said he was immediately ordered to leave.
Beck, who attended the meeting, thought that the situation could have been handled internally by the Green Bean managers.
“I think that it was a little bit excessive to call Campus Safety,” he said. “I wish that she would have consulted with the rest of us before she took any action.”
According to Grady, Occidental officials will be releasing a statement outlining any further action the college will take in response to this incident, including policy changes, by Oct. 14.
Occidental officials urge students to call Campus Safety whenever they feel unsafe.
“If you feel uncomfortable, please tell someone,” Grady said. “This person was not handcuffed just because someone felt uncomfortable. This person was handcuffed because a request was made and he resisted.”
Campus Safety has a procedure in place for those wishing to file complaints or commendations concerning officer response. According to their website, forms are available in the Campus Safety office, Human Resources office and the Student Activities Center.
Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Olivia Davis using she/her pronouns. Davis prefers they/them/their pronouns.
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