After being accused of racial profiling for canceling a party at a University of Wisconsin fraternity last weekend, the UW Police Department said Monday their decision was due solely to security issues.
After reviewing an event intended to kick off the Hispanic Heritage Month sponsored by Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, UWPD decided to nix the party because the event was too widely advertised and could have safety problems, UWPD Assistant Chief Dale Burke said.
The police department became alarmed when they came across a Facebook advertisement created to promote the party, in which the event had recorded a possible attendance much higher than the allowed capacity at the Memorial Union's Trip Commons, according to Burke.
"That becomes a crowd control issue for us," Burke said.
Due to the football game, a considerable part of the UWPD was being used to monitor the streets of Madison, and the number of officers able to patrol the event would not have been enough to keep the party safe, according to Burke.
"We do allow UW System students and their guests, and we think normally that if the advertisements are limited to that audience, the attendance will be manageable and within reason," Burke said.
Lambda Theta Phi Foundation officials, however, said they suspect racial profiling and a violation of the fraternity members' First Amendment right to assemble and freely express their culture came into play.
Augustin Garcia, national chairman of the Lambda Theta Phi Foundation, said the organization has been contacting the Milwaukee office of the American Civil Liberties Union and has gathered a team of 12 attorneys to examine the validity of this measure.
According to Garcia, UW was the only campus to cancel an event of the Hispanic Heritage Month, and the act therefore marks a serious assumption regarding the Hispanic community.
"Is this really a security measure, or is it an ethnic measure?" Garcia asked.
According to Lambda Theta Phi Foundation Attorney James Cueva, several fraternity members told him the police department expressed concern over the musical styles to be played at the party — a combination of Latin genres and hip-hop — and that it influenced their decision to cancel the event.
"It seems to convey that Latinos and African-Americans can't have an event not connected to violence," Cueva said.
Burke said UWPD has had problems with hip-hop events, but that was not taken into consideration when evaluating Lambda's event.
"I would not have associated the Lambdas with hip-hop music," Burke said. "It doesn't mean they wouldn't have hip-hop; I just wouldn't have made that assumption."
According to Cueva, party organizers offered to hire extra security and check IDs at the door of the event, but Burke said that was not an option.
"It's unrealistic to expect students to act as security for other students," Burke said. "It's not fair to put students in that kind of a situation where they might be intimidated by other folks coming in."
Burke said similar situations have happened in the past and it tends to "lead to trouble."
He added that the police department was not satisfied with the way the matter was resolved, and hopes to avoid a similar situation in the future.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time we've had to do this, and I hope this is the last time," Burke said. "As long as the student orgs are willing to talk to us, we can certainly avoid these kinds of things in the future."