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Why Did a University Quarter Police and Soldiers in Its Dorms?

We need a robust Third Amendment to protect us not just from the military but also from militarized police.

Athletes play in front of a Case Western University building in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: The Alumni Association of CWRU)

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”—US Constitution, Amendment III

Black lives matter at Case Western Reserve University. That’s why several Black Case Western students, including myself, drafted an online petition demanding answers for Case Western President Barbara R. Snyder’s quartering of 1,700 out-of-state police officers and 200 members of the National Guard in the university’s dormitories during the Republican National Convention (RNC). A whistleblower had alerted us to her unilateral agreement with Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson to house hundreds of police officers, which she had made without students’ knowledge or consent. Within a week of posting our petition on, we had more than 330 signatures.

Feeling the pressure, Snyder finally came clean about her plans to quarter soldiers on campus. Her June 24 email to the campus community referred to them as “peace officers” — whereas our petition had warned against “riot police” — yet she did vaguely acknowledge police brutality and bias. She then caricatured our petition: “Nevertheless, presuming that every peace officer coming to Cleveland is predisposed to violence or discrimination represents its own kind of profiling, and is in direct opposition to our core values as a university.”

By charging us with reverse profiling, Snyder gaslighted us. That is, she cast us as irrational and delusional, so as to invalidate our petition’s inquiry concerning the militarized police state invading our campus. She gaslighted us from the standpoint of the mainstream US picture of cops as “peace officers” who serve and protect the public. Because white people tend to see cops in the positive images of Hollywood movies and TV shows like Law & Order, her public gaslighting marginalized us as anti-cop angry Black activists.

Her charge of reverse profiling added insult to the injury of US police constantly profiling Black people as criminal suspects — even Black students on campus. Under a segregated cloud of suspicion, many Black folks tend to see cops in terms of the YouTube clips showing the extrajudicial killings of Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, et al. Most affluent white people enjoy the privilege of living in a make-believe world of Andy Griffith-like “peace officers.” But we Black petitioners live in the real world of Darth Vader-like “riot police.”

Here in Cleveland, Black residents tend to see police in terms of the 2014 Department of Justice report of its investigation of the Cleveland Police Department (CPD), which concluded that the CPD engages in a pattern or practice of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Department of Justice (DOJ) report validates the truth of our petition that Snyder gaslighted and thus, tried to invalidate. The truth is that our questions and concerns about 1,700 militarized riot police under CPD command quartering on our campus were on point.

Black Clevelanders tend to see the CPD — under whose auspices the 1,700 out-of-state cops policed the RNC — in terms of the 100 Cleveland cops who chased down Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, an unarmed Black couple whose car had accidentally backfired. Thirteen officers fired 137 shots at the car and killed them both on November 29, 2012.

Blacks folks tend to see Cleveland police in terms of the two cops who shot dead a 12-year-old Black boy named Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in a park on November 22, 2014.

Note that “pattern or practice” means that the deaths of Russell, Williams and Rice were not exceptional or isolated incidents. Nor is the CPD the only police department that the DOJ has found to be systemically racist against Black people. Snyder ignored the department’s report on Cleveland’s biased policing so as to gaslight our petition’s concerns. Furthermore, she violated the Third Amendment.

The Third Amendment

Snyder betrayed all Case Western students’ Third Amendment rights. She subverted the original intent of the Third Amendment by forcing us to quarter soldiers in dorms on our campus, without our consent. She unconstitutionally betrayed our trust.

The US Constitution is the set of moral principles that defines our nation’s politics. It subordinates political society to natural law. Its seven articles outline the purpose of our government — to serve the public by protecting the life, liberty and property of every citizen. Its Bill of Rights contains moral imperatives intended to protect citizens from an overreaching government. The Bill of Rights is the center that must hold, lest our republic collapse into tyranny.

Describing the new US system as “a republic, if you can keep it,” Benjamin Franklin congratulated the 1787 Constitutional Convention for establishing the rule of law. He also implicitly warned them, and us, against arbitrary rule.

Snyder’s Third Amendment violation exemplifies our nation losing its republic to the arbitrary rule of men and women who command standing armies in blue uniforms. Our republic has lapsed into a military-industrial complex, whereby a university president has dictatorial authority to displace students from their dorms to make room for legions of soldiers.

The Third Amendment is now part of a watered-down version of the Bill of Rights, which no longer adequately protects citizens from military enforcement of civilian law. The amendments were moral imperatives once upon a time. They are now legal technicalities, all but powerless before standing armies, even on college campuses.

Our petition was true to the Third Amendment’s original intent — to righteously oppose standing armies. The framers designed the Third Amendment to protect US citizens from any standing army resembling the British soldiers who enforced US civilian law during the 1760s and 1770s.

The framers did not object to British soldiers as such. Rather, they objected to British soldiers enforcing domestic law as police officers. The Third Amendment came out of the colonists’ outrage over the Quartering Acts of 1765 and 1774, which required US colonists to quarter British soldiers in inns, taverns and private homes. Ultimately, the framers designed the Third Amendment to protect US citizens from soldiers policing their communities.

The Third Amendment does a decent job of protecting citizens from soldiers who act as police. But what about police who act as soldiers? According to a strict construction of the Third Amendment’s black-letter law, the 1,700 police officers who quartered in the dormitories during the RNC may not be “soldiers.” But if one digs deeper into the Third Amendment’s “original intent” — to protect American citizens from police militarization — their status as “soldiers” is clear.

Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop is instructive:

There are two forms of police militarization: direct and indirect. Direct militarization is the use of the standing military for domestic policing. Indirect militarization happens when police agencies and police officers take on more and more characteristics of an army.

Of the total 1,900 “soldiers” who quartered at Case Western Reserve University, the 200 members of the National Guard denote direct militarization and the 1,700 out-of-state police officers denote indirect militarization.

US police have been militarizing at least since Daryl Gates of the Los Angeles Police Department invented SWAT teams during the late 1960s, and since President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in June 1971.

The drug war has enabled civilian police forces to militarize their tactics and technology up to the level of the armed forces. Police departments are now standing armies of “warrior cops” that largely crusade against Black low-level drug dealers and their Black consumers, with little regard for their non-Black suppliers. These militarized police officers are Third Amendment “soldiers” by any reasonable construction.

We citizens need to reinvigorate the Third Amendment, to stop some future university president from quartering soldiers in the students’ home away from home. For a Third Amendment true to its original intent would have precluded Snyder from aiding and abetting the mayor’s standing army, which suppressed many citizens’ First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.

We need a robust Third Amendment to protect us from police militarization. To stop the rise of a blue-uniformed Praetorian Guard. To keep our universities as scholarly sanctuaries free from the police state. To keep our republic.

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