Cleveland students protest 'mere presence' of cops on campus for RNC

Students at a Cleveland, Ohio college are petitioning to halt the billeting of riot police officers on campus during the Republican National Convention (RNC) next week.

Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) will close down most campus activity next week as administrators fear rioting outside the RNC may spill over onto their campus five miles away, The New York Times reports.

Student have started a petition asking the administration to guarantee student safety while 1,900 police and National Guardsmen are housed at CWRU, and to limit the officers’ privileges during their stay. The petition had garnered just 360 signatures at press time, out of a goal of 500.

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Chris Sheridan, a CWRU vice president, told The Times that many black students are concerned over the police presence, explaining that “in light of the national climate, they had concerns about police officers on campus in close proximity to them with weapons.”

Still, CWRU thought it best to host police officers in campus residence halls and limit classes and other events on campus as a response to the multiple police-involved shootings and protests across the nation this month.

The petition features nine demands, including that police to store their weapons and gear off campus, refrain from entering university buildings other than their own dorms, and abstain from alcohol and drugs. The protesters also want the university to provide off-campus housing and a police misconduct reporting system to students.

Taru Taylor, a law student and petition coauthor, said the university is placing the concerns of their police guests over those of students.

“The primary concern is the safety of the campus community,” Taylor said, citing instances of police misconduct. “Also, there’s a sense in which the university should be a scholarly environment, a sanctuary from the police state.”

Petition supporter and CWRU alum Shannon Groll wrote in a comment that she fears for students staying on campus at the same time as police.

“As an alum of CWRU, I relied on feeling safe in my identity on campus,” Groll writes. “I am scared and concerned for students of color, queer* and trans* students and all university community members at the mercy of an arbitrarily expanded police force without clear oversight or attachment to the community. Please, protect CWRU as a safe space for all bodies.”

Supporter Keith Fitch hopes CWRU has the best intentions in mind for students.

“I am deeply troubled by the presence—even temporarily—of a militarized police force on the CWRU campus,” Fitch states in his comment. “The number one priority for an educational institution is to guarantee a safe environment for its students, faculty, and staff. The requested considerations are the bare minimum of what the University should guarantee the CWRU community.”

Unique Smith adds that it was inappropriate for CWRU to host police during the RNC, calling it a “slap in the face” because the very sight of uniformed officers could “trigger” community members who have had negative interactions with law enforcement.

“The presence of militarized police on campus reinforces the reality that our lives and mental health does not matter,” Smith said. “The mere presence of these officers on campus is an insult and could serve as a trigger for many painful memories of trauma inflicted by militarized police on community members.”

Sheridan said that CWRU will be paid an undisclosed amount to host the police officers during the RNC, noting that fewer than 300 students are living on campus for summer classes.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @RiersonNC