Panel weighs alternatives to policing in Baltimore

By CLAIRE GOUDREAU | March 14, 2019

Students Against Private Police (SAPP) and the Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts (BHPLA) co-sponsored a panel on alternatives to policing on March 7. The event took place a few hours after the Baltimore City Senate Delegation to the Maryland Assembly approved a bill that would grant Hopkins a private police force. BHPLA is an initiative to promote communication and create links between the Homewood Campus and historic black communities in Baltimore. 

The panel featured speakers from SAPP, the President of Baltimore Redevelopment Action Coalition for Empowerment (BRACE) Donald Gresham and Director of Research and Public Policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), Dayvon Love. The panel was moderated by Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and Director of BHPLA Lawrence Jackson.

Panelists expressed shared concerns that an increase in policing on and around the Hopkins campuses would lead to an increase in racial profiling. University President Ronald J. Daniels has stated that the school is adamantly opposed to racial profiling and is determined to create a police force that does not tolerate this practice. However, Gresham told the crowd that he still doesn’t believe that a private police force will have his best interests in mind.

“We don’t feel any more protected. Matter of fact, I feel more vulnerable,” Gresham said. 

Graduate student Quinn Lester, who spoke on behalf of SAPP, agreed with Gresham.

“Hopkins is not actually concerned about crime. They’re concerned about the presence of poor black and brown bodies on or near its campus,” he said.

Lester told the audience that he believed that the police force would not help the city’s crime rates and was just an attempt by Hopkins to protect their property and exert control over the community.

In December, Hopkins released an Interim Study Report which stated that there has been a recent increase in crime both on-campus and in Baltimore. Lester said that he had little faith in the accuracy of these statistics and disagreed with the report’s strong recommendation for a private police force.

The panelists also spoke about the lack of current alternatives to policing and gave suggestions for other measures the University and city could take to lower crime rates. Love told the audience that the lack of policing alternatives is symptomatic of a larger societal tendency to turn toward policing to solve problems.

“Many of us have been socialized to see [policing and prisons] as natural aspects of living in the world,” he said. “When people talk about alternatives to policing in a policy-making context, legislators usually scoff at them.”

Love spoke in favor of increasing support and funding for organizations like Safe Streets, an outreach program which works to reduce gun violence among Baltimore residents. The University is currently involved with Safe Streets and other non-policing anti-crime programs, as outlined in the Interim Study Report. 

“Police should really be the last resort,” Love said. “It’s important to invest in residents’ ability to do things on the ground.”

Other suggestions brought up by panelists included improving streetlights and subsidizing Lyft rides.

“There are very basic things that Hopkins could spend money on to feel safe that would be a lot cheaper than making a whole other personal police department,” Lester said.

SAPP member Stephanie Saxton echoed these thoughts in an interview with The News-Letter. Saxton believes that Baltimore’s private and public police forces are already over funded.

“There are thousands of officers right now. The Baltimore City Police Department is $500 million alone. And what has that done?” she said. “It’s time to get creative about ways to lead to safety.”

After speaking, the panel answered questions from the audience with the help of SAPP members.

SAPP member and Bloomberg School of Public Health graduate student Meridian Howes was in Annapolis for the passing of the senate bill. They told The News-Letter in an interview that although the bill was approved, SAPP was still making progress.

“We’ve been getting a lot of people to go down [to Annapolis] and invest in this weekend and call in. I also think that there’s so much more that people can and should be doing which has not been happening,” they said. “We really, really need more support for our actions.”

Associate Director of BHPLA and Assistant Research Professor of Sociology Kali-Ahset Amen helped organize the panel. She told The News-Letter that the discussion was a success.

“There wasn’t passive participation by anyone. Everyone was fully engaged and ready to take their engagement to the next level of political action,” she said.

Although Amen expressed her disappointment about the senate approval of the bill, she made it clear that the fight was not yet over.

“This isn’t the end of the conversation,” she said. “This is part of a larger dialogue about the kinds of communities people want to build and the kinds of futures we want to establish.”

During the discussion, Jackson shared a similar thought. 

“Victory is going to be a journey, and one we will be continuing on for quite some time,” he said. “That is not something that should deter us or weary us. That is a part of our commitment to struggle, and our commitment to the kind of democracy that we want to create.”

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