Activists seek removal of Police Commission president

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Community activists are calling for the removal of Erroll Southers, president of the Board of Police Commissioners, for what they say is his involvement in “squashing” pro-Palestinian support on area campuses.

Members of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition held a news conference outside police headquarters downtown May 7 to demand that Mayor Karen Bass remove Southers from his leadership position for allegedly “directing the removal” of Asna Tabassum’s USC valedictorian speech, calling in the Los Angeles Police Department to clear pro-Palestinian protesters from USC’s campus, and abusing his power to have members of the public detained by police at public meetings.

Joel Curran, USC’s senior vice president of communications, responded to a request for comment on behalf of Southers by noting Southers could not respond because he is “extremely busy helping prepare for USC commencement’s events later this week.”

“Dr. Southers is an internationally recognized security expert and scholar, and USC is exceedingly fortunate to benefit from his unparalleled experience and service to the university,” Curran said in a statement. “We do not comment on internal decision-making, but suffice it to say that the university’s leadership is united in prioritizing the safety and security of our students and faculty and staff.”

Curran added, “Freedom of speech is a foundational value at USC, but that freedom does not include the right to break rules, obstruct vital university functions and endanger our community’s health and safety. 

“The university is legally obligated to provide a campus environment where everyone can walk throughout our campus free from harassment, discrimination and threats.”

Matyos Kidane of Stop LAPD Spying Coalition — an organization based in Skid Row that works to end what it calls police spying and data-driven policing — said the coalition is focusing on Southers because he serves as USC’s associate senior vice president of safety and risk assurance, responsible for overseeing the Administration Division’s safety departments.

“Erroll Southers has reached these places of prominence as appointed by Mayor Karen Bass through a career in law enforcement, but also through a career in academia for research — or what is passed off as research — that has demonized the Black community, Muslim community members and continues to do so,” Kidane said. “We’re seeing now that Erroll Southers in this position of prominence and he’s expressing his political will, and acting on an agenda, that serves the genocidal apartheid state at the expense of the health and safety of not just students but Angelenos.”

Black Lives Matter organizer Greg “Baba” Akili said the protests on college campuses have been “overwhelmingly peaceful,” and have only gotten violent when police show up.

“The titular head of that force is a person [Southers] who sits here, but who also has a history of supporting, promoting and connecting that force and repression to Israeli policies and U.S. policies,” Akili said. “So, he needs to go.”

He also criticized Bass for her silence, noting that he remembers when she participated in anti-apartheid protests.

USC became a focal point of Southland pro-Palestinian protests following its April 15 decision to cancel valedictorian Tabassum’s commencement speech in response to complaints about her online posts critics called antisemitic. USC officials insisted the move was solely a security issue, not a political decision.

Still, tensions continued to mount — leading to the mass protest April 24 and attempted occupation of Alumni Park that resulted in the 93 arrests and the clearing of the earlier encampment.

Last week, UCLA faced criticism from Gov. Gavin Newsom and other elected officials for its response to a similar encampment established by students. Pro-Palestinian protesters called for a ceasefire and for UCLA to divest from any business associated with Israel.

Police moved in and cleared the weeklong pro-Palestinian encampment May 2, arresting 209 people. Most of those arrested were booked on suspicion of unlawful assembly, then released with instructions to appear in court at a later date.

LAPD officers were among law enforcement agencies that responded to calls for assistance at the schools to address public safety concerns.

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