Latinx Student Alliance alleges discrimination by U.Va. Police in dispersing social gathering on Lawn

LSA statement claims discrepancy in treatment of surrounding white Lawn residents

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Two LSA Lawn residents were hosting a gathering in their Lawn rooms. 

Lauren Hornsby | Cavalier Daily

 The University Police Department is facing allegations of discrimination after a Latinx student gathering on the Lawn was broken up by officers the evening of Aug. 25. 

Eddie Castillo, a fourth-year College student and LSA vice president for advocacy, was present at the event, which was for new and returning students. He said the actions of one of the officers was aggressive towards their group and that white Lawn residents who were also having gatherings were treated in a much gentler manner.

Though not technically an LSA-sponsored event, two LSA Lawn residents who were hosting the gathering notified the surrounding Lawn rooms and family pavilion of their plans prior to the event, and promised to end by 11 p.m. per the request of the pavilion residents. 

Castillo noted the the event had technically ended when the officers arrived.

“We had a Latinx beverage, Horchata, we had Spanish music playing and we had a lot of new first-years there,” Castillo said. “There were no problems. Around 10 o’clock we shut down one of the rooms because it ran out of the Horchata, and moved to just one room.”

Castillo said they called “last song” around 10:45 p.m., and then at 10:52 p.m. made an announcement that everyone needed to leave the Lawn room since they had to be done by 11 p.m. 

“There were maybe around 30 people, and once we made that announcement, then about half left,” Castillo said. “Then around 10:59 people are starting to leave, but that’s when the police officer comes over and starts shining his light at people and telling them to get off the Lawn.”

Castillo said the area in front of the Lawn room and a little past the pillars is considered to be the Lawn resident’s property. He said people were being asked to get off of that area. 

“The officer was coming over and screaming at people to get off the Lawn, not really saying more gently to get off the Lawn, it was more assertive and sudden,” Castillo said. “The Lawn resident walks up to the officers and begins to tell the officers that the event is ending and people are dispersing, but the police officer doesn't actually acknowledge the resident. The officer looks at resident but doesn't actually say anything.” 

Castillo said the Lawn resident followed the officers down the Lawn and stood next to the officer as they knocked on the resident’s door. 

“The police officer asks if this is her room, which she says yes, it is, and the police officer cuts the resident off and says that she needs to disperse everyone in 20 minutes, or everything out here will be considered litter and you’ll be charged with distribution to minors when he comes back,” Castillo said. “Then the police officer walks away without giving us much of a chance to acknowledge what he says.”

The Lawn resident involved in the situation was fourth-year Curry student Paola Sánchez Valdez, who declined to comment for this article. 

Castillo said there were approximately 15 students remaining from the gathering when the officers arrived, and many in attendance were first-years who were trying to meet new people. 

“It was just really unfortunate that as soon as the police officers show up, all these first-years are terrified,” Castillo said. “What we also know is that there were some undocumented students there who came out to make friends, which can be rough for undocumented students to do, and it really just hurt us.”

According to Castillo, there had been alcohol present in both of the two Lawn rooms, but that it had run out by 10:30, leaving only the Latinx drink Horchata left, and the members shut down one of the rooms to consolidate the gathering to one space by the time the officers arrived.  

“There was alcohol, but all of the alcohol was out by 10:30,” Castillo said. “When the officers arrived, I believe there were really only cups around, not even cans, [and] in reality, we were cleaning up, not actually littering.”

Castillo said he followed the officer as he walked down the Lawn towards the other parties in order to ask for his name, and heard the officer notify a white Lawn resident hosting a party that there had been a complaint and that only those under 21 needed to disperse, unlike the LSA gathering, who were told all needed to leave. 

“When the officer talked to the white resident, he said there was a complaint, but didn’t call for immediate shut down of their party, but did call for immediate shut down of our party and didn’t inform us there was a complaint,” Castillo said. “He told [the] resident … that he would be charged with littering if the trash remained, but with us he told us everyone needed to go in twenty minutes or we would be charged with litter and distribution to minors, [and] he didn’t say this other resident would be charged with distribution to minors like he blatantly said to us.”

Castillo said he found this alleged discrepancy in treatment saddening, particularly when the event with LSA members was respectful the wishes of the pavilion residents, and felt that, based off his behavior, the officer came into the situation predisposed to think the group was misbehaving. 

The University Police Department did not return a request for comment. 

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily on Tuesday, University President Teresa Sullivan said the incident is under investigation and was brought to her attention on Aug. 27. 

The Latinx Student Alliance denounced the alleged mistreatment in a statement on its Facebook page on Aug. 27 and connected it to recent white nationalist events. The University has faced criticism over its response to an Aug. 11 white nationalist torchlit march through Grounds that turned violent

“The Charlottesville community is going through a long process of healing from the uninvited and unwanted members of the so-called ‘alt-right,’” LSA wrote. “The last thing that needs to be happen, especially from an institution that was unresponsive and absent on Friday, August 11th, is to target a group of minorities in such an aggressive and inappropriate manner.” 

Castillo said he and other LSA members spoke with two of their Lawn resident friends of color on Bachelor Row — the smaller Lawn Rooms south of Pavilion VII — who also hosted parties that evening also experienced similarly inconsistent treatment from white fellow residents by the officer. 

“Two of our friends on Bachelor Row who are people of color also got similar treatment to us, in the sense that they were asked to immediately shut down their party and they were questioned and given a hard time about a table serving food, which is allowed on the Lawn,” Castillo said. “I don’t want our organization to be seen as sensitive or quick to jump the gun, [but in] reality it was really a racial difference — it’s a matter of protocols being different and not being the same for all residents across the board.”

Castillo said that while the LSA greatly appreciates all that University Police Department does to protect students, they felt the need to speak up about this incident involving their community members and remind UPD that the Lawn residents are students, and student leaders at that. 

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