On August 25, I tendered my resignation from the Johns Hopkins Police Accountability Board (JHPAB). A day later, University officials sent a letter to the remaining Board members informing them that their tenure had been “paused” in keeping with University President Ronald J. Daniels’ June announcement regarding a similar “pause” to the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD).
I resigned from the JHPAB for two reasons. First, my personal reasons for joining the Board had not been met or fulfilled. Second, in the nearly seven months since this Board was convened, we had failed to execute — in any way — our primary duty of engaging and enabling community members to share community concerns regarding the JHPD.
When I submitted my nomination to be part of the JHPAB, I did so for several reasons. As a Black father of two young sons, I was concerned about potential racial profiling and police brutality against people who look like me and my sons, and I wanted to actively participate in the shaping of the JHPD to prevent it.
I am also one of only a handful of Black men who occupy a senior administrative role at Hopkins, and as such, I also occupy a certain privilege, access and duty to provide perspective on behalf of my people and other Black Hopkins employees — particularly Black men — that would likely not otherwise be present.
And lastly, as a native son of Baltimore, born and raised, I was and remain deeply disturbed by the ever-increasing violent crimes and homicide inflicted on Black men, women and children in this city, mostly by other Black men. I strongly believe that if we are to curb the out-of-control violence in my hometown, it has to be done in cooperation and coordination with law enforcement, not in conflict with them.
Regrettably, since our appointments in February, the Board has been unable to self-organize or aggressively assert its authority on the matter of policing at Hopkins. Neither my influence as a senior Hopkins employee nor my passion as an outspoken Black man, father and Baltimorean have been enough to move us collectively to action. As such, my participation on the Board no longer met the objectives I feel deeply about.
It was difficult to justify the ongoing silence, delay and inaction on this matter while new incidents of police brutality are showcased on the nightly news with the regularity of the weather report.
On July 2, I wrote the following to my fellow Board members:
“If the criticism of the earlier effort to release a public statement [regarding the murder of George Floyd] was that [certain members of the JHPAB] were moving too quickly, improperly, or that the draft language was “convoluted,” certainly the criticism today — a month later — is that we are moving too slowly, no one has provided what the proper procedures are, and no has taken the initiative to draft or propose an alternative statement. We have ignored press inquiries, not addressed a nearly 3,000 signature petition, we still have no mechanism to collect or engage public feedback and since our appointment in February, we’ve officially met for all of an hour and half, of which most of us spoke for less than 5 minutes.”
In the nearly two months since I wrote this to my fellow Board members, little had changed. We had made no progress in addressing any of the operational and public engagement concerns l laid out in that email. In fact, the Board was further paralyzed over concerns regarding the applicability and implementation of certain State procedural laws to the work of the JHPAB. While several of us on the Board took the initiative to satisfactorily resolve those matters (in our opinion), University officials asked us to hold off on any further meetings as they explored the legal implications of those concerns as well as the larger existential question of the role of the JHPAB, in light of Daniels’ announcement of a two-year pause to the JHPD’s implementation. On the latter point, I should point out the law is clear — as long as Hopkins intends to have a JHPD, the JHPAB must exist.
It’s been over three months since George Floyd was murdered, and as a country, we find ourselves yet again on the cusp of waves of protests and outrage over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a father shot seven times in the back as he got into his car with his three children inside. As a country we seem to be caught in a never-ending cycle: violence inflicted against Black people by the police, then massive public outrage followed by symbolic gestures like street murals and toppled statues that hold us over until the next incident starts the cycle again.
One of the expressed purposes of the JHPAB was to break the cycle through our own research and recommendations to University leadership regarding best practices in policing, ideas for community-based public safety strategies, and reforms to typical campus police policies, procedures and performance. Sadly, none of those things have happened, and now they likely never will.
The JHPAB has become part of the cycle: a well-intended but largely symbolic gesture to temporarily appease certain key and influential constituency groups. While my resignation is mostly symbolic, I was compelled to stand in solidarity with the larger public outrage over police brutality — not at odds or indifferent to it. I feel for the activists marching in the streets and regret deeply that I have not been more vocal and supportive of their efforts to right an over 400-year wrong given my position of power and privilege at Hopkins. While I may not always agree with their tactics, I understand their anger and 100 percent support their call for an end to police brutality and the demand for quick and transparent police accountability.
Hopkins has asked the JHPAB and the larger public for patience over the next two years as it figures out its public safety and policing strategy in light of the ongoing national debate. But to quote James Baldwin, “How much time do you want for your ‘progress’?” Haven’t we waited long enough? Hasn’t enough research been done regarding effective community policing? Haven’t enough Black people been victimized and killed? How many more six-year-old Black girls need to be pulled out of their mother’s minivan at gunpoint by the police over a case of mistaken identity? The public deserves a decision on the fate of the JHPD, not a delay.
To those well-meaning allies who have led this effort against the JHPD, thank you for your activism and persistence. We hear you. I hear you. But do take care not to conflate or supplant Black people’s demand that the police stop killing us with your own legitimate but separate concerns over the State giving too much power and authority to a large, private institution like Hopkins. Our demand not to die at the hands of police and that they be held accountable when they do wrong is not the same as your demand to disband them. The vast majority of Black people want to be treated justly and fairly by police, not to eliminate them.
Lastly, to the remaining members of the JHPAB, all of whom are good people with the best of intentions, I have one final piece of strong advice: Decide for yourselves whether you want to disband or proceed forward. Only you or the State can decide your fate. Should you decide to move forward, do so quickly, boldly and unapologetically.
JD McCormick is a Director of Finance and Administration on the Homewood Campus and serves as a Divisional Business Officer for Academic and Cultural Centers at Hopkins.