The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons and things to be seized.
— Amendment IV of the United States Constitution
At the end of this post, please click the link to a Washington Post article about a horrifying police raid at Worth County High School in Sylvester, Georgia.
It isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Students’ Fourth Amendment rights have been tested in the courts by past warrant-free abuses, and although students haven’t necessarily been awarded damages their basic privacy rights have been affirmed — at least part of the time. Those rulings are partial legal victories, and they also confirm the fact that brutal “law enforcement” practices exist.
These abuses may be a lot more common than we think, due to a loophole protecting parental entitlement. It doesn’t appear that loophole was used in the Worth County School raid, though: When parents give consent, there are very few limits to searches that can be conducted on their children. Try not to let your imagination run amok, but do keep in mind that, regardless of the law, when a parent gives permission there’s no one to file a complaint. A bystander might try to get help for the kid, but don’t expect a good outcome.
Here’s some background, and I apologize in advance for lack of documentation:
After multiple strip searches were conducted during a high school raid somewhere in the Midwest circa 1980 (I’m recalling this from memory, so the details aren’t clear), a group of adults held a demonstration in support of the authorities involved. Someone who spoke on behalf of the demonstrators said they favored anything that would keep drugs out of their schools.
At the time, I wondered how many of the victimized kids would need potentially addictive medication to cope with the trauma they’d been through. I also thought it would be clever if one of those students went on television to respond to the ignorant adult “march” by saying, “I’m in favor of anything that will keep drugs out of those demonstrators’ homes. Pull the carpet away from their floors. Empty every cupboard and drawer. Open every container and dump the contents on the floor. Overturn furniture. Cut open sofa cushions and mattresses. Tear out wall plaster. And don’t forget they might have drugs on their persons.”
No such statement was broadcast, and it wouldn’t have been even if a statement had been recorded (an emotional, but restrained, remark from a student denouncing the raid was aired on a network newscast, and he came across as more level-headed than the adult who spoke about how she favored the school raid). Suggesting the authorities should tear up adults’ homes would have been deemed inflammatory. Police state tactics in schools aren’t always deemed inflammatory, though. In those instances, Batman’s campy sidekick, Robin, should be heard saying, “Support your local police.” It’s on that level.
It’s my understanding that during the circa 1980 raid in the Midwest, drug sniffing dogs had been brought onto campus, and any student who failed the dogs’ sniff test was forced to step behind a screen and remove all of his or her clothing. I didn’t hear about allegations of body cavity searches. A few arrests were made after drugs were found in students’ clothing, although in some instances the dogs’ reactions were prompted by the scent of students’ pets or menstrual fluid.
If memory serves, many students wanted to take action against the school district and the law enforcement agency involved in humiliating them. Only one student’s parents supported the legal challenge, though, so she was the one plaintiff who was represented by a civil rights firm. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor, but she was denied damages.
That plaintiff and her classmates should have collected a truckload of money. They didn’t, so there’s no real deterrent. People with power know they can do these things, and the odds are in favor of nothing coming of it.
A more recent case which reached the U.S. Supreme Court involved a public high school student (I don’t recall which state) who was forced to strip naked and shake her underpants in front of two female school employees after they received a false report that she had brought an over-the-counter pain reliever to school. The legal outcome was similar to the outcome of the case described a moment ago in this post. The Court ruled that the search was illegal, but she was not awarded damages. More of the vicious cycle.
The pro-police demonstration by adults in the Midwest demonstrated the simple, brutal mentality involved in the War on Drugs. Some people actually get it into their heads that disregarding boundaries and allowing persons in authority to run wild will make a better world.
They’re wrong, for reasons which have already been proven through experience.
Sheriff Jeff Hobby and some other people in authority must be aware that his department’s actions at the school were illegal, because they’re passing the buck. Some are saying, in effect, “We didn’t know the deputies would do this,” and the Sheriff is claiming innocence because he didn’t personally do any groping. It’s one more example of people proving their cowardice after they’re caught ignoring boundaries.