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

Protesters call for end to private police force

By RUDY MALCOM | June 30, 2020

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Monday’s protest harkens back to the West Wednesdays held by the Sit-In during spring 2019.

About 100 protesters marched to University President Ronald J. Daniels’ home on June 29, taping copies of a petition demanding the cancellation of the private police force to his front door and windows. 

The rally was organized and endorsed by numerous student and community groups, including Teachers and Researchers United (TRU), an unofficial graduate student union; Baltimore Bloc, a grassroots collective that aims to rebuild communities; and the Garland Sit-In and Occupation (Sit-In).

First gathering at the Harriet Tubman Grove, demonstrators called on Hopkins to cut its ties with the Baltimore Police Department and to better invest in surrounding Black communities. The rally was held in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Mihir Chaudhary, who graduated from the Bloomberg School of Public Health in May, was part of the coalition that helped plan the event. In an interview with The News-Letter, he condemned administrators’ decision on June 12 to merely postpone the implementation of the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD).

“The two-year delay is essentially a stall tactic and public relations maneuver that the University is engaging in, one, to ride the public outrage and national uprising against police violence right now and, two, to wait for a lot of the memory and a lot of the activists who have been involved in the Sit-In to graduate to allow this to lose steam,” he said. “We won’t accept a two-year suspension.”

Karen Lancaster, assistant vice president of external relations for the Office of Communications, responded to criticism of the JHPD in an email to The News-Letter.

“Our goal is to reduce as much as possible our reliance on sworn policing as a public safety strategy, and we will spend these next two years engaged in the discussions locally and nationally around a redetermination of the role of police in society,” she wrote.

At the rally, TRU member Kristin Brig-Ortiz, a PhD candidate studying History of Medicine, noted that 6000 students, faculty, alumni and community members have signed a petition calling on the University to terminate the JHPD altogether.

“Hopkins is supposed to be a world-class university, but it’s terrible at so much basic stuff, like reading the room, listening to opinions and caring about its employees, students and surrounding communities,” she said. “For the administration, it’s all about the image.” 

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Protesters unsuccessfully called on Daniels to come outside. 

Last spring, the Sit-In, a group of students and community members, occupied Garland Hall for 35 days in protest of the JHPD, resulting in the arrests of four students and three community members.

Lester Spence, a Political Science and Africana Studies professor, praised the Sit-In at the rally. In addition, he recounted learning in 2011 that a white student called security on a Black student in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library. Security officers, he said, harassed the Black student.

“Even if it was theoretically possible — it’s not — to create a perfectly trained police force, it wouldn’t be possible to deal with what I call the ‘Karen problem,’” he said. 

According to Spence, who is known for his research on race and police violence, implementing the JHPD would cement the divide between Hopkins and the rest of Baltimore.

“It would double-down on policing as a solution to a range of community problems,” he said.

Tegan White-Nesbitt, vice chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures Graduate Student Forum, echoed Spence’s sentiments in an interview with The News-Letter

Citing their experience growing up in a Black and low-income neighborhood, White-Nesbitt argued that by creating the JHPD, University leaders are not promoting safety but instead pandering to parents and donors. 

“Hopkins embracing a police force at the higher levels is all about money,” they said. “Black neighborhoods get demonized and blamed for crime and shut out of the safe circle of Hopkins instead of being funded and supported in a way that really counts.”

In her email, Lancaster emphasized the University’s involvement in alternative approaches to reducing crime in Baltimore. She stated that Hopkins helped bring Roca, a youth anti-violence program, to the city and provides faculty guidance to Safe Streets Baltimore, a public health and safety campaign to reduce shootings.

“We intend to continue and expand on those efforts in the years ahead,” Lancaster wrote.

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One speaker compared racist policing to Israel’s plans to annex Palestine. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Chaudhary characterized the University’s efforts to serve Baltimore as “token gestures,” noting how Hopkins Hospital has used hardball tactics to sue thousands of its Black and low-income neighbors in East Baltimore — for a median amount of $1,089 in alleged medical debt, according to a report published in May 2019 by the Coalition for A Humane Hopkins (CAHH), National Nurses United (NNU) and AFL-CIO. 

As a non-profit hospital, Hopkins receives millions of dollars from the state of Maryland every year to provide free or reduced-cost care to low and moderate-income patients. However, according to the CAHH, Hopkins has made it difficult for patients to access charity care

At the event, NNU member Natalie Segers, a nurse at the Hospital, voiced concerns that the JHPD would contribute to the “health-care trauma” that patients face. Security officers, Segers said, should receive extensive training in nonviolent holds and de-escalation techniques.

“Police rarely follow the least traumatic route of conflict resolution. We don’t need cops in our hospitals,” they said. “What we need is a complete revolution of what hospital security looks like.”

Chaudhary argued in an interview with The News-Letter that the JHPD would contribute to what he perceives as the University’s goal of gentrifying communities of color. He cited the controversial East Baltimore Development Inc. as an example of how Hopkins has displaced Baltimore residents.

In an interview with The News-Letter, TRU Treasurer Jacob Hammer, a third-year graduate student in Physics and Astronomy, mentioned that the Sit-In denounced racist policing long before George Floyd’s killing by a white Minneapolis police officer.

“People need to look for and envision that radical change ahead of time instead of waiting for it to happen again and again,” he said.

At the rally, Spence noted that the Minneapolis City Council recently voted to disband its police force. He commended other steps nationwide to dismantle racism, such as the Mississippi legislature’s plans to remove the Confederate emblem from its state flag.

“What we’re fighting for, if there was ever a moment in which anything is possible, it’s this one. If there was ever a moment where the world we want to create can actually happen, it’s this one,” Spence said. “Baltimore was, is and always should be owned by the people who live in it, owned by the people who work in it and owned by the people who love it.”

On July 1, one of the groups that organized the rally, West Wednesday, will hold a peaceful protest in Hampden to demand accountability for Tyrone West and other victims of police brutality. West died in police custody on July 18, 2013; his sister Tawanda Jones has led a vigil demanding justice for his death every Wednesday since.

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Demonstrators demanded justice for Black lives lost to police brutality.

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