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The Los Angeles Police Department is under scrutiny again, this time for sending almost 80 officers to break up a college house party. Most of the partygoers were African American students from the University of Southern California.

NPR's Shareen Marisol Meraji reports that black students on campus say they're being unfairly targeted.

SHAREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: USC Senior, Nate Howard organized the party the LAPD shut down. At a protest on campus, Monday, he condemned the response.

NATE HOWARD: Seventy-plus officers, what else was going on at that time in the community that you needed to be at a party of students getting ready to graduate?

MERAJI: Howard says LAPD sent those 70-plus officers in riot gear, and a helicopter, to break up his party after they received noise complaints. Students were handcuffed, detained and six were arrested. Howard says it was a peaceful event registered with campus police; student I.D.s checked at the door - no fights, no guns - just black college kids having fun.

HOWARD: And here we have LAPD who are still trying to make us live in 1963. Brothers like me go to college.

(APPLAUSE)

HOWARD: They go to college. They look like me. They look like us. Here we are.

MERAJI: Surrounding him were about a hundred, mostly black and Latino students, some holding signs that read: We Are Scholars Not Criminals.

Just a day after that student protest, a panel of LAPD officers, USC campus police, and city and university officials addressed a crowd squeezed into a 1200-capacity auditorium on campus.

CAPTAIN PAUL SNELL: What I'd like to do, before we move forward, is really address the race issue...

MERAJI: LAPD Captain Paul Snell spoke to a room so packed people were being turned away at the door.

SNELL: We have looked at this, and we do not believe at this point that there is any indication that this was race based...

MERAJI: Snell says his officers responded to a noise complaint and felt threatened, so they called for help - routine. But when it was time for audience questions, white USC students got up and said it was all about race. Sarah Tither-Kaplan, a senior at USC, was at another house party just across the street - no one there was arrested.

SARAH TITHER-KAPLAN: My house was treated with respect. The only difference between the two parties was that racial component. And if you're going to deny that, then I'm sorry, I'm just not going to stand for it. Because...

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: USC is in South L.A., surrounded by a poor black and Latino neighborhood. Police brutality lead to the '92 riots there which were mentioned a number of times during the forum. Many said the issue is bigger than a house party. It's about racial profiling and there's a history of that kind of policing in South L.A.

Commander Bill Scott, of LAPD's South Bureau, stopped taking questions to ask one.

COMMANDER BILL SCOTT: How many people, just by a show of hands, think this incident was based on race?

MERAJI: Virtually every hand in the auditorium went up. One woman asked if she could raise two.

SCOTT: We take that seriously and that really matters to us. And the hands that I saw were white hands, black hands, brown hands - everybody in the room. So that means something to us.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: Commander Scott says there's an investigation in progress and that he doesn't want to see an incident like this repeated.

As for those arrested, they've been released and their charges may or may not be dropped, but their responsibilities as students haven't gone away - finals at USC start today.

Shareen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.

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