Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 8, 2020

Postponing the JHPD is a performative step in the right direction. Hopkins must do more to combat structural racism.

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | June 15, 2020

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Three days ago, top University officials announced that they would be halting their plans to create a private police force (JHPD) for at least two years. This was the second communication sent to the student body in response to the protests that began when George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. It took almost an entire week after Floyd’s death for the University to release a statement. 

The first email Hopkins sent claimed to express solidarity with the black community, but neglected to acknowledge the University’s contributions to structural racism in Baltimore. While administrators mentioned the launch of a virtual symposium on racial justice, they notably failed to address the planned private police force.

Their second email announced the delay of the implementation of JHPD for two years, but this performative gesture means little given that the University was already falling behind on its timeline. The Vice President for Security left in June 2019; over a year later, the University still has not filled this vacancy.

As a result, a draft of the JHPD’s required Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) — set to be released during the fall of 2019 — has yet to be revealed. This December, University President Ronald J. Daniels himself told The News-Letter that “there’s simply no activity taking place right now with respect to the MOU.”

The rationale behind a mere two-year delay was unclear from the email. We commend the University for aiming to “invest in alternative approaches” to safety, but the best way to “reduce... our reliance on policing” would be to outright cancel the JHPD.

The issues that the University now claims to grapple with regarding policing are the same concerns that students have been voicing since 2018. Opponents of the JHPD, particularly the Garland Sit-In and Occupation, have stressed that racial biases and corruption of the BPD would surely be an issue at Hopkins. Yes, several roundtable discussions were hosted in response. But the decision ultimately was the same. Why would a two-year break make a difference?

The one guaranteed change will be the departure of all students who fought against the planned JHPD from the beginning. The majority of students who joined the Garland Sit-In and Occupation in 2019 will have graduated. The Accountability Board will need to be updated, and will likely include students who have never even set foot in Garland. While Hopkins plans to resume the conversation about policing in two years, it is leaving behind the students who led it in the first place.

It is clear that Hopkins is only bending to public opinion at the moment. Over two-thirds of Americans view Floyd’s death as a sign of “broader problems” of systemic racism in policing. It would be tone-deaf for Hopkins to implement a new police force while anti-police protesters are taking to the streets day after day.

We are glad that Hopkins is finally listening, but the question remains: Why wasn’t our outcry enough before? Why was the letter from 101 faculty members to the Board of Trustees not enough? Why was a referendum stating that 71 percent of students opposed the JHPD’s creation not enough? For the sake of its image, Hopkins ultimately is listening to the demands of the nation, but only after ignoring years of demands from its own community.

Unfortunately, the University is not typically a leader when it comes to racial discourse. Hopkins has a history of exploiting black bodies, like Henrietta Lacks’, to fuel its research. More recently, the Hospital has used hardball tactics to sue thousands of its patients in East Baltimore for a median amount of $1,089 in alleged medical debt. These lawsuits earn pocket change for Hopkins at the expense of its black and low-income neighbors. The University must acknowledge that a police force would similarly disproportionately target black individuals.

Hopkins has proven that it cares more about its image than the needs, thoughts and fears of its constituents. The Hopkins sign was recently painted with graffiti messages like “no private police” and “Hopkins is racist.” The University was quicker to cover up the graffiti than to declare its solidarity with the black community.

The administration has made a few attempts to seem open and helpful, but these actions serve only to create a veneer of thoughtful dialogue, rather than launch meaningful change. The demographics of students and professors highlight the lack of black representation on campus. In 2015, eight percent of reported faculty identified as members of underrepresented minority groups. Furthermore, only two percent of all full professors are black. Hopkins cannot state that it stands against racism and inequality when we don’t have the professors, faculty or students to support this claim.

Beyond simply pausing the development of the JHPD and waiting for the dust to settle, Hopkins must use its resources to invest in the black communities it has historically exploited. The original bill that established the JHPD also included millions of dollars in funding for Baltimore City youth programs. Granted, Hopkins has established initiatives in the past to better serve the Baltimore community, including HopkinsLocal and the Community Impact Internship Program. The Second Commission on Undergraduate Education also seeks to increase community-based learning within Baltimore. Hopkins can strengthen these structures and do so much more as a leading research institution to promote equality in the city.

The JHPD would by nature oppose the University’s self-touted “core commitment to justice, equity, and inclusion.” We must not only delay but abolish it. Students must continue current advocacy efforts; every Hopkins affiliate can sign the letter to abandon the private police force. Courses in the Center of Africana Studies and other classes with a focus on racism in the U.S. are easily accessible opportunities for students. Learning is the first step to sustainable anti-racism. 

We call on students to commit to anti-racist change, and we at The News-Letter promise to do the same. We aim to establish an accountability board to ensure that we are amplifying black voices and issues. Please contact us at managing@jhunewsletter.com if you have questions or suggestions about making our paper more representative. 

We must make sure that Hopkins does not forget the fight for George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless other victims of racist police brutality. Our activism must be long-lasting, sustained and never pushed to the bottom of the agenda. It is up to current students and faculty to hold the University accountable for its racist history, and to ensure that Hopkins uses its privilege and power to better serve the Baltimore community.

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