Hopkins students demonstrate at People’s March for Justice

By DIVA PAREKH | February 1, 2018

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COURTESY OF LUCAS MIRANDA
The People’s March for Justice brought together Hopkins students and Baltimore community members.

Members of the Hopkins and Baltimore community joined a demonstration organized by the People’s Power Assembly (PPA) on Jan. 13. Officially named the People’s March for Justice, the event addressed the protestor’s concerns about the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) infringing on the rights of community members and drawing city resources away from other public institutions like schools.

The morning of the March, a group of Hopkins students gathered on the Beach. Representatives from several student groups spoke about their motivations for getting involved in the demonstration and told students how to respond if police showed up.

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Tzedek (formerly known as Jews Giving a Fuck at Hopkins) created a Facebook event for interested students and coordinated efforts with PPA.

Other student organizations who participated were Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Black Student Union (BSU), Voice for Choice and Teachers and Researchers United (TRU).

The Hopkins contingent joined Baltimore community members at McKeldin Square, where PPA leaders, Baltimore community members and Hopkins students made short speeches about the causes behind the March.

The group then marched to the Police Administration Building on East Fayette and President Street, where organizers and community members made a few more speeches before the March disbanded.

Protesters shouted chants such as “BPD, KKK, How many kids did you kill today?” and “Up up with education, down down with deportation” and held signs with anti-BPD slogans. Many others carried signs with the names of people killed in police shootings.

Organizers did not collaborate with the police when planning the March, which involved walking through busy streets near the Inner Harbor and obstructing traffic.

About 10 minutes after the March began, police cars and motorbikes began to follow the group. Several police officers told demonstrators to get off the street.

According to SDS Co-President Mira Wattal, who witnessed a police officer grab a protester from the sidelines and question them, there were minimal altercations between police officers and protesters.

“They were obviously trying to corral us in, they were yelling at us, but they didn’t really break up the crowd. It was maybe one incident on the outskirts, one altercation,” she said.

Wattal attributed this to the presence of college students, specifically Hopkins students, at the demonstration.

“Historically, when there are Hopkins students at an event in Baltimore, police presence is usually less aggressive,” Wattal said. “As college students, we have the privilege of being treated differently by the law, which makes me angry, because not everyone else in Baltimore gets that same treatment.”

The People’s March was initially organized in response to Mayor Catherine Pugh canceling the annual MLK Day Parade and replacing it with a day of service.

Though Pugh eventually reinstated the parade in response to a citywide outcry, the PPA decided to go forward with the March.

PPA Member Sharon Black explained why the PPA decided to continue with the March, emphasizing the BPD’s occupation of Harlem Park after the fatal shooting of a homicide detective.

“The PPA has been organizing around the issue of police racism and corruption, and particularly the occupation that took place in Harlem Park after the scandal of the officer who was killed, most likely by his own,” she said. “Instead, the community was targeted for some time and [was placed] on lockdown.”

Black discussed how police brutality and infringement of Baltimore citizens’ rights in Harlem Park called for some form of community action.

“Our demonstration was against police corruption in Baltimore City. But then the mayor cancelled the original Dr. King parade, and we wanted to have a People’s March,” she said. “We’ve been fighting to divest money out of the police department and put it into education.”

Tzedek founding member Miranda Bachman agreed, further addressing the implications of the events in Harlem Park.

“The Baltimore Police Department’s illegal occupation of the Harlem Park neighborhood in West Baltimore is a clear example of how police departments — which are highly militarized, over-funded, and corrupt — terrorize poor black neighborhoods without any accountability,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “For almost a week, people were not let into their homes or allowed outside of them, they were held at checkpoints, they lost their jobs and wages. This cannot be ignored or condoned, and the city is doing just that.”

Bachman, along with the other student leaders at the event, was impressed with the amount of Hopkins students who attended.

“I was really excited to see so many people come out, including many younger students who will be at Hopkins longer and can continue this work,” she wrote. “One of the March organizers told me that when we got off the bus, we looked like the cavalry coming.”

SJP member Naisa Rahman felt that it was important for Hopkins students to get more involved in events organized by grassroots organizations in the Baltimore community.

When addressing the group of Hopkins students on the Beach prior to the March, she noted the brutality of the Baltimore Police force in the context of their military-level training. She discussed the history of the BPD’s relationship with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that began in 2002.

“The people of this city do not deserve for their money to be used to arm and militarize the police further,” Rahman said. “SJP joins this March because we recognize that deadly police violence in Palestine is intricately tied to the physical abuse, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders, racial profiling, mass spying and surveillance, detention and excessive force we see by the BPD.”

Samantha Agarwal, a graduate student in the sociology department and member of TRU, spoke on the Beach about the Hopkins administration’s reliance on contracted workers.

“Through subcontracting, Hopkins pushes the responsibilities of being an employer on third parties, instead of hiring directly, allowing it to circumvent labor laws and pay lower wages,” she said. “Subcontracted employees at Hopkins often have no benefits and have fewer job protections.”

Agarwal addressed the impact that Hopkins as an institution has had on Baltimore neighborhoods.

“We look to Hopkins and we see a microcosm of the racial injustices which plague our society. This is seen in its appalling lack of black faculty and student body, its labor practices which disadvantage people of color and in its racist housing policies,” she said. “While Hopkins is a major force for gentrification, it makes little to no attempt to create affordable housing.”

At the Police Administration Building, Sharon Black further discussed the idea of housing inequality and privatization in Baltimore, emphasizing the importance of young people in continuing the fight.

“Forty percent of public housing in Baltimore City is being torn down and privatized. I don’t think the mayor or any of the powers that be, the people that run this city, they don’t give a damn,” she said. “They don’t care where these people go. Put them way out in the county where they can’t get in touch with their families; let them starve; let them live in the streets.”

Black also discussed how some neighborhoods in Baltimore, including hers, had water shut off on certain blocks for up to five days, emphasizing the importance of direct action to hold City institutions accountable.

In her speech before the March, Wattal talked about the responsibility Hopkins students have as members of the Baltimore community.

“We’re part of the problem because Hopkins students can and do conduct drone research and weapons research. Even though we’re outsiders, we’re Hopkins students and we’re part of the problem, we might be a part of the solution,” she said. “We’re here today because we’re not politically apathetic.”

BSU President Kwame Alston agreed, further addressing the part he believe Hopkins students need to play in helping and empowering the community. Drawing from his personal experience as a Baltimore native who went through the public school system, Alston talked about how education budget cuts endanger schools and families throughout the City.

“When schools shut down, people’s parents have to stay home from work, and they’re threatened with losing their jobs because they have to take care of their kids,” he said.

Baltimore City, according to Alston, invests $15,000 per student in its schooling system, as opposed to Montgomery County, which invests $17,000 and other school districts across the country that invest over $20,000. He discussed the lack of infrastructure in Baltimore schools, which has been causing heating issues in schools for over a decade even though it just recently gained media attention.

At the event in McKeldin Square, a Baltimore City Public School teacher shared her experience during the heating crisis that several public schools experienced earlier in January, which prompted outcry among teachers and parents.

“The students looked at me and said ‘do something, do something.’ I couldn’t do anything. I could not turn on the heat and keep them warm. I could not dismiss them to go home,” she said.

Alston added that even when heaters are introduced in Baltimore schools, the poor infrastructure causes fuses to break as a result of the power drawn by the heaters.

“As you march today, just remember that as Hopkins students, we directly benefit from a lot of the reasons why there is not funding, we directly benefit from the development of Harbor East, we directly benefit from the gentrification of Remington,” he said. “Keep those [BCPS] students in the back of your mind.”

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