CSUN MEChA members claim harassment by undercover LAPD officers

Photo Caption Needed
Photo Courtesy of Teresa Vazquez

CSUN student organization, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) said they were made the target of surveillance during their first meeting of this semester.

Faculty adviser of MEChA, Dr. Jorge Garcia said that on Sept. 2 they were holding their first meeting on the lawn between Jerome Richfield Hall and Barman Hall when they observed the surveillance groups.

“They looked older than traditional students and some were wearing cargo pants, fatigues,” Garcia said. “We were joking among ourselves about who they could possibly be. They looked militaristic.”

“We then noticed that they were doing some maneuvers. They would spread out then move back in together,” he explained.

MEChA President Abraham Ramirez and the community liaison Felicia Rivera said what happened next caused them to take greater interest in the group.

“We saw this guy rushing us, coming toward us really fast,” Rivera said. “We were backing them. At the corner of our eye we saw that his group caught up to him and restrained him.”

“We heard them say something to him like, ‘It’s not time yet,’ then they huddled up again,” Ramirez said.

According to a report compiled by associate chair of the Chicano studies department Gabriel Gutierrez, “As the meeting continued, it was announced that the meeting would be moved to the Chicano/a house… In the mean time, the group that had at this time taken what appeared to be a rather aggressive posture toward the participants of the MEChA meeting gathered their belongings and proceeded on the walk going north along the library.”

“Somebody told us that they were over at the Chicano/a Studies House. Jesus Flores, Jake Prendez, Gabriel Gutierrez, Rudy Acuna and I went over there, and they were in a cluster in front of the Chicano House,” Garcia said.

He said he approached the group after they began questioning his student, Jesus Flores, after he took out his cell phone and asked him for his ID.

“I told them that I was a CSUN professor and former dean of the College of Humanities and asked what they were doing here. One responded with a sarcastic remark. They were very arrogant, giving us orders to move on. I told them that if they had a problem with us that they should contact our CSUN police, that we didn’t have to deal with other police,” Garcia said.

He added that, “One then said that he was LAPD and that they were conducting a training exercise and that they were not armed. He told me that they were not armed several times. I found that suspicious. It was starting to get confrontational. They were really nasty to us.”

Urban studies professor, Dr. Teresa Vasquez, said she was on her way to her office in Sierra Hall when she noticed the group of people with cameras, bags and suitcases. She said she stopped to talk to Dr. Garcia when she witnessed the incident.

“It felt very hostile. Unusual. They were being aggressive. My first impression was that it was a hate group. They didn’t behave like police. I even thought that they were from the Minutemen,” said Vasquez.

Vasquez said she began to take pictures of the incident when a member of the group approached her.

“One saw me taking pictures and asked, ‘Who are you?’ what department I was from and he took my pictures. I do not think anyone has the right. They took recording and pictures of everyone.”

According to Ramirez, the group, who he calls “undercovers”, left when the campus police arrived.

“They (CSUN police) said they knew the group would be here and that they had a permit, but that they were only supposed to be at the bookstore, not here,” Ramirez said.

CSUN Police Captain Scott VanScoy confirmed that the group was indeed from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and that CSUN police was aware of their presence on the campus.

“No permit is required,” said VanScoy. “It is a public university. They called us as professional courtesy and let us know that they would be carrying on a training session practicing their observational skills for about two hours.”

The witnesses of the incident felt the group racially targeted their organization.

Vazquez, skeptical of the reports that the group was conducting training, said because the MEChA group was mostly Latino, the incident seemed like an exercise in racial profiling.

“They saw us and decided to use us for their experiments. Because we were students of color, they felt they could use us as their freaking test subjects,” said Ramirez. “If it were a sorority, they wouldn’t have used them.”

“We were targeted for a good 20-30 minutes. I cannot imagine what type of training that was,” Garcia said.

He said he was unsure whether the group had planned it, or took their meeting as an opportunity to “target brown people, but that was what it became.”

“In the 70s we had undercovers in the classrooms. We had spies hiding behind vending machines at a MEChA conference. We have been the target of direct surveillance and harassment in the past. It is not farfetched for us to say this. It is historical,” Garcia said.

VanScoy said that although the group had not done anything illegal, including taking the pictures, his chief requested that they not grant open permission to the LAPD following this incident but that they still have the right to come.

“If this group were to call again, we would have a more lengthy conversation about who, what and where now,” said VanScoy. “We put some measures in place to prevent this from happening again.”

“If we don’t agree that it will not work out in the best interest of the school, then we can request that they refrain from the activity,” VanScoy explained.

Garcia said MEChA’s faculty would discuss their next plan of action regarding this incident.

“What we want is that there is no possibility of them coming back here. I’ve got a few suggestions where they can go, maybe Beverly Hills,” Garcia said.

Ramirez said he wants the student body to be informed and aware that the “LAPD is on our campus and using students of color as their test subjects.”

“I do not believe that they should have jurisdiction here. Hopefully this will stop them from coming back,” he said.