University President Ronald J. Daniels and other administrators announced the suspension of the implementation of the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD) for at least two years in an email on June 12. This announcement followed nationwide protests against racism and police brutality prompted by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department.
While rising senior Smitha Mahesh was surprised that University leaders responded to student outcry, she was dissatisfied that they did not take the decision further.
“All these petitions, protests, and outcry from students, faculty, the Hopkins community and the whole of Baltimore City community have been very clear that there should be a complete abolishment of the private police force,” she said. “ I ask the question — why wait? Why pause? We should completely abolish the private police right now.”
In April 2019, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed the Community Safety and Strengthening Act into law, authorizing Hopkins to become the first private university in Maryland to have its own police force.
That spring, the Garland Sit-In and Occupation (Sit-In), a group of students and community members, occupied Garland Hall for 35 days in protest. On May 8, 2019, University administrators called on the Baltimore City Fire Department and the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) to evict the protesters, resulting in several arrests.
The Sit-In expressed its dissatisfaction with the University’s statement in an email to The News-Letter.
“Those of us who have been attempting to engage university officials in good-faith for the last several years, and especially during the Garland Sit-in and Occupation, recognize this for what it is: a knee-jerk reaction and clumsy attempt at misdirection,” the Sit-In wrote. “The petition, with nearly 6,000 signatures, calls for the abandonment of all plans for an armed private police force at Johns Hopkins, and we will not concede any ground on this.”
The Sit-In elaborated on its expectations for University leadership.
“We would add several additional demands, among them a re-investment of the over $50 million dedicated to the private police plan, an immediate cut to all ties with BPD, and for the swift resignation of Ron Daniels and administrators who supported this offensive project, which would further endanger Black and Brown Baltimoreans, staff, and students,” the Sit-In wrote.
Daniels, along with Paul Rothman, CEO of Hopkins Medicine, and Kevin Sowers, President of Hopkins Health System, noted in their email that public universities in Baltimore have their own police forces. They explained that the decision to pursue a campus police force was made in response to an increase in violent crime affecting University affiliates.
However, due to the current public debate, the administration decided to take time to reassess how the JHPD will be implemented.
Daniels, Rothman and Sowers cited four reasons for the decision to pause current plans: to invest resources toward reopening campus; to benefit from legislative efforts occurring at local, state and national levels; to better improve already existing campus security; and to collaborate with Baltimore leadership, including the police commissioner and new mayor.
“We recognize the ways in which systemic racism impacts unfairly our Black and Brown colleagues, neighbors, students, and staff. We know we must do more as an institution and as individuals to fully realize Johns Hopkins’ core commitment to justice, equity, and inclusion, and we are grateful for the many difficult and important conversations that are happening now and that will guide our efforts to listen, to support, and to act,” they wrote.
They also emphasized that the University plans to work with the larger Baltimore community as it plans the future of the JHPD.
Mariam Banahi, a graduate student and member of the Sit-In, described the University’s statement as lacking in an email to The News-Letter.
“The statement released by Daniels, Rothman, and Sowers was insulting and shows that the University is following to protect its own image and property rather than leading to fight structural and institutional racism — whether in Baltimore City or at the university and hospital,” she wrote. “After the brutal police murders of Freddie Gray, Korryn Gaines, Tyrone West, and so many others across Baltimore City and County, university leaders did nothing but entrench their plans to form an armed private police force.”
Rising junior Jevon Campbell expressed his skepticism about the University’s decision in an email to The News-Letter.
“It has been insulting enough to see the lack of care for black students, staff, faculty, and community members, reflected by the University’s previous late statement and lack of action,” he wrote. “It would be even more insulting if the University is carrying on with business as usual and doing the bare minimum but feigning that they are actually starting to care and help when they really are not changing anything.”
Rising sophomore Lubna Azmi referenced the nationwide movement to defund the police, arguing that it will be impossible to form the JHPD two years from now.
“The fact is that so many cities, including Baltimore, will defund their police department. [JHPD] will inevitably be canceled whether Hopkins likes it or not because of what is going on the national stage,” Azmi said. “It’s really funny that they think they will push this through.”
She cited the Minneapolis City Council, which has unanimously passed a resolution to pursue a public safety model that replaces its police department. It has commissioned a working group to deliver recommendations on what a new model would look like.
Rising senior Bentley Addison characterized the suspension as a positive step, but expressed concerns about the timing of the suspension.
“In two years, myself and most of the students fighting right now will have graduated. If Hopkins is making this decision to push this plan after we’re gone, they’re wrong. Students and community members will continue to fight to ensure that the JHPD does not come into being,” he wrote. “This does not end with the current moment or climate of protests. If Hopkins is actually serious about exploring alternative solutions that aren’t policing, then I welcome this step.”
Banahi emphasized that mobilization against the JHPD has been rising.
“The Sit-in and the numerous petitions circulating suggest a shifting tide at the university, which they will not be able to keep with. Baltimoreans, students, staff, and faculty are showing that we are collectively re-imagining what is possible and that we should continue to demand more of ourselves, university leadership, and public servants,” Banahi wrote.
Mahesh stressed her belief that pushback against the JHPD will not end after her class and subsequent others graduate from Hopkins.
“This protest, these petitions, these outcries to abolish the private police force or any general policing form will not go away,” Mahesh said. “We will continue this fight. We will continue protesting and advocating for the abolishment of the private police force, and it will happen in the next two years and continue after the next two years. We are not going to give up.”
Leela Gebo contributed reporting to this article.