Over 200 members of the Hopkins and Baltimore community protested the creation of a Hopkins private police force, as well as the University’s contracts with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), on Wednesday in Wyman Park Dell. Shortly after the rally, demonstrators marched to University President Ronald J. Daniels’ house. They then continued on to Garland Hall, where members of Students Against Private Police (SAPP) and the Hopkins Coalition against ICE were holding a 24-hour sit-in that had begun earlier that afternoon.
These protests responded to the final approval of the Community Safety and Strengthening Act, which the Maryland General Assembly passed on April 1. This legislation will allow the University to create its own police force.
Several other organizations, including National Nurses United (NNU), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), CASA de Maryland and Baltimore Democratic Socialists of America also participated in the rally.
Charles Village resident Nariman El Said explained that organizers planned a protest in addition to the sit-in to emphasize that the proposed private police force and the JHU-ICE contracts affect the greater Baltimore community.
“We wanted to have an action that also allowed the community to come out and show this unified voice,” she said. “We stand together in saying that we do not want increased militarization of our communities whether it’s through a private police force or whether it’s through enabling ICE as an agency through these bloody contracts.”
El Said added that the sit-in was an attempt to confront University administrators.
“This is our way of saying that you’re not going to write us away in a newsletter, you’re not going to write us away in an email. You’re going to sit down and have a conversation with us, face to face,” she said.
Susan Ridge, vice president for communications, emailed a statement to The News-Letter in response to the sit-in. She wrote that the legislation, which authorizes the University to have its own police force, has measures to ensure the accountability and transparency of the force.
“Johns Hopkins University recognizes and respects the viewpoints of students and faculty on important issues of our time, including immigration and policing,” Ridge wrote. “We will continue to work every day to strengthen relationships with the community and keep our campuses and surrounding areas safe. We also will have ongoing opportunities for community engagement, oversight, and input once the JHPD is operational.”
Ridge further explained that the training offered to ICE agents through the JHU-ICE contracts are unrelated to the enforcement of immigration policies.
“We have been unequivocal in our public statements concerning the consequences of recent immigration policies that have a clear, direct and demonstrable impact on members of our university community,” she wrote.
The sit-in, which began around 1pm, lasted until after Garland Hall closed. At 7pm the same day, SAPP released a statement explaining that they had reached an agreement with Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger to allow the protestors to stay in the building overnight.
“We negotiated with the Student Affairs office to ensure that Baltimore Police Department would not be called on the students sitting in past the close of the building. While Vice Provost Schollenberger refused to put this pledge in writing, he made the following statement to us to be recorded. In the interest of transparency, we are sharing it here. Underlying this pledge was the implicit threat that, if we opened the doors for any of the hundreds of supporters marching tonight, the BPD would be called,” the statement read.
During the rally, protestors gathered in Wyman Park Dell at the site of the former Confederate monument to Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson. The park has since been rededicated to abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
Several people gave speeches during the rally including, Joe Kane, a Baltimore City Council candidate, and Tawanda Jones, the sister of Tyrone West, who was a Baltimore native who died in police custody. A Morgan State University police officer was involved in West’s death.
Jones criticized the lack of concern for African-American life in the justice system.
“There is no justice. It’s just us, working on a system that is designed to kill, conquer and destroy us. Forget justice when it’s just us. We’re more than hashtags and body bags. We’re more than being six feet in the dirt and pictures and buttons on T-shirts. Our lives matter,” she said.
Several of the speakers made reference to the origins of private policing at other institutions, most of which began to suppress student activists from supporting the Civil Rights Movement and opposing the Vietnam War.
President of the Black Student Union Chisom Okereke emphasized that black students currently have issues with being profiled by Hopkins security. Okereke noted that these problems would only worsen with the introduction of a private police force.
“One of my friends, who is a black man, who is a senior, getting ready to graduate, actually said that he carries his Hopkins ID on his person as if they were his freedom papers,” she said.
SAPP member Evan Drukker-Schardl stated in an interview with The News-Letter that there was a lack of authenticity in the response from the Hopkins administration on the creation of the private police force.
“The attitude of the administration as a whole throughout this entire process has been, on the one hand, to feign interest in talking to students and community members who are opposed to the very creation of a private police force, and on the other hand to publicly celebrate their wins with the private police force,” he said.
Many people at the rally agreed with this sentiment. Freshman Scarlett Williams believes that the University has ignored the concerns of Hopkins students and staff, as well as Baltimore community members, in favor of administrations’ own interests.
“I don’t think they’re responding well. I don’t think they’re listening to the students and the staff and the people that live around this area. I think that they’re listening to the people who aren’t going to be affected by the issue,” she said.
According to Drukker-Schardl, the private police bill passed without the support of the Hopkins community. He noted that according to a recent referendum by the Student Government Association (SGA), 74 percent of undergraduates opposed the private police force.
Nicki Stachowiak, a Baltimore community member and member of the Hopkins Coalition Against ICE, was impressed by the large turnout for the protest.
“Turnout was amazing. I was at the front for a while but then when I turned around, I saw all the people and went, ‘Holy crap, look at all these people it’s amazing’ and everybody had this energy. I came to tears a couple of times,“ she said.
Drukker-Schardl emphasized that, not only did a lot of people come to the rally, people from all different backgrounds came together for a common cause.
“People were filtering in and out. I saw folks here from basically every part of Baltimore. Folks from East Baltimore and West Baltimore, Hopkins students, grad students, staff, people who’ve been organizing with us since last year and people who have never come to any of these protests with us before,” he said.
He said that the large turnout at protests despite the bill passing the General Assembly showed that there was still resistance against the planned private police force.
“It shows the continuing momentum. Even though the bill has passed the legislature, the continuing opposition against private police across Baltimore will continue in the future,” Drukker-Schardl said.
Meagan Peoples contributed reporting.