Activists continue to rally against private police plan

By SARAH Y. KIM | April 5, 2018

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ELLIE HALLENBORG/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR Students gathered in Garland Hall and spoke against the proposed police force.

After Maryland lawmakers announced that they would not support a bill authorizing Hopkins to create its own police force, Students Against Private Police (SAPP) organized a rally at Garland Hall to celebrate on Tuesday afternoon. SAPP, a coalition of 11 student groups, used the rally to voice opposition to future plans for a Hopkins police force. 

The hour-long rally, called “Hopkins Votes: No Private Police,” consisted of speeches by several SAPP members and local politicians, including Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott, who put forward a municipal resolution against the bill last month. At the rally, SAPP members and supporters were also able to register to vote in Baltimore.

While SAPP members called the bill’s failure this legislative session a victory, they stressed the importance of sustaining the momentum of their cause. The University plans to conduct an interim study over several months before reintroducing new legislation.

Black Student Union (BSU) Vice President Chisom Okereke urged student groups to continue organizing against the bill. 

“Even though we had a small victory last week, we’ve still got to keep pushing,” she said. 

Opponents of the bill have argued that the University should prioritze addressing sexual assault on campus instead of directing resources towards reducing armed robberies.

Okereke went on to note that the University has failed to relay information on sexual assault cases to students until pressured into doing so.

“Our adaministration refused to release that information to us within the timely manner that would be reasonable for this to happen,” Okereke said. “We need to hold the administration accountable.” 

Senior Stephanie Saxton urged students to register to vote in Baltimore to ensure that the bill does not pass when it is reintroduced. Saxton registered to vote in the City shortly after her speech. 

“We’re trying to build a student voting bloc so that we can have leverage when we talk to delegates,” Saxton said. “We will always take the stance of anti-private police going forward in who we endorse for November.” 

She called for stronger restorative solutions, rather than punitive ones. 

“When we say that we care about Baltimore and when we say that we love Baltimoreans, that does not mean we punish poor Baltimoreans or black Baltimoreans,” she said. 

She added that the same should apply for sexual assault survivors and students with disabilities. 

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott gave a speech voicing his support for SAPP. Scott is a Democrat and is also running for Lieutenant Governor. 

In March, Scott introduced a legislaton which would have required the University to consult with the City Council about their police proposal.

He criticized the fact that the Baltimore City Council does not have legislative control over its own police department.

“By no way should the state decide what happens on the streets of Baltimore or policing in Baltimore,” he said. 

Scott also emphasized the importance of taking the voices of people who may be most adversely impacted by the bill into account, namely people at Hopkins as well as North and East Baltimoreans. 

He noted that these groups have difficulty commuting to Annapolis, where the Maryland House Judiciary Committee convenes, making it difficult for their grievances to be heard. He also called for alternative solutions to crime. 

“Violence is a disease,” he said. “It’s a public health issue and should be treated as such.” 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Scott explained why it was important for the bill to be decided upon at the local level. 

“If there is a local council ordinance: One, it’s going to be more progressive; two, it’s going to have more accountability measures; three, it’s more open to the public,” he said. 

He advised students to be prepared for whatever decision is made next legislative session and to come up with demands to implement if a private police force is created. 

After Scott, Christine Senteno, campaign manager for Delegate Mary Washington, gave a speech. Washington will challenge Senator Joan Conway, who introduced the private police force bill, for the Democratic nomination this year.

Senteno read a statement from Washington, in which she congratulated students for organizing against the bill successfully this legislative session. 

“Your commitment to the student body, the workers of this University, the surrounding neighborhood and Baltimore as a whole, to them you are an inspiration,” Senteno read from the statement. “You have sent a message to administrators and lawmakers in Annapolis that we need to be inclusive. You are heard.” 

She hopes to continue working with Hopkins students in the coming months while the interim study takes place. 

Reverend Annie Chambers, who is currently running for Lieutenant Governor as a Green Party member, commended SAPP for their activism. 

She described herself as a voice for the poor and working class people of Baltimore and said that both the Democrats and Republicans have failed the City. 

“Neither party has served us,” she said. “I am 76 years old and I’ve been a Democrat ever since I could vote, and I have got no service.” 

Chambers advocated for better education, instead of a private police force, as a way to help alleviate poverty, crime and corruption. 

“Baltimore City has failed its students and failed their young people for many many years,” she said.

SAPP member Kyra Meko said that for her and many others, the speech by Chambers was one of the highlights of the rally.

“When Reverend Chambers spoke and thanked us I cried,” she said. “We’ve been working really hard on this... it’s nice to get the victory but it’s also to nice to hear somebody look us in the eyes and say thank you for what you’re doing.” 

After Chambers, Okereke read aloud testimonies from BSU members, who described their experiences with and fears of racial profiling. She highlighted part of a testimony by junior Zachary Byrd. 

Byrd said that for black students, carrying a J-card is like carrying freedom papers. Before slavery was abolished, free African Americans carried freedom papers to prove that they were not slaves. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, SAPP member Bentley Addison said that the testimonies were some of the most powerful moments of the rally. He discussed his own fears about racial profiling and elaborated on Byrd’s statement. 

“HopCops security officials won’t believe that we go to Hopkins,” he said. “[A Hopkins ID] is your ticket to not getting harassed.” 

Meko was unable to canvass at the event, though she spoke with SAPP members who participated. She said that SAPP’s petition got 50 more signatures. 

“A lot of community members were thanking them and really appreciative of the fact that students were out there letting them know what was going on and engaging with them about it,” Meko said. 

Addison stressed how important it is for students to continue organizing against the bill. He noted that this rally was not as well attended as other demonstrations against the bill. 

“There were still a good number of people there, but that’s still something we need to look out for and make sure we continue the momentum,” he said. 

SAPP will continue working with community organizations. Some of SAPP’s alternative solutions to reducing crime include assigning outreach workers to high-crime neighborhoods and implementing community courts, victim offender mediation programs and providing free access to mental healthcare and drug rehabilitation. 

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