The Maryland General Assembly held a hearing this week on House Bill 336, which aims to prohibit private universities from establishing police departments. Titled “Private Institutions of Higher Education - Police Departments - Repeal and Prohibition,” the bill would repeal several previously-approved articles permitting Hopkins to implement a police force and would more generally amend articles concerning forces at other private universities in Maryland.
Bill 336 was proposed in October, following a summer marked by protests against anti-Black police violence. In the months after the protests, some legislative changes have been implemented — including reforms designed to de-escalate violence and hold officers accountable.
Over the summer, the student body was vocal on social media about supporting Black Lives Matter and abolishing the police. Yet as time went on, this crucial conversation has grown fainter. Bill 336, whose passage can impact the lives of students and our neighbors for years to come, has largely flown under the radar of the Hopkins community.
We worry that this silence reflects performative activism.
It is worth remembering that students, faculty and staff have condemned the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD) since its proposal. In 2018, a Student Government Association referendum showed that over 70% of student respondents were against it. In April 2019, when the Maryland General Assembly voted in favor of its creation, students and community members protested in Garland Hall for over a month. In early 2020, 101 faculty members signed a letter opposing it. And in June, 6,000 students, faculty, alumni and community members signed a petition calling for its cancellation after the University announced a two-year pause.
In an interview with The News-Letter in December, University President Ronald J. Daniels explained that the University decided to pause plans for the force because there was “a lot happening both in the city and state” regarding public safety and policing.
However, as protesters have noted, Hopkins may just be waiting for the conversation to die down before resuming plans. As students living in a predominantly Black city with a history of racist policing, we must continue to advocate against a private police force on our campus.
Bill 336 must be passed now. As students, we have a role to play in protecting our campus community. While it may be too late to submit a testimony, there is still time to call legislators and representatives and explain why their support of the bill is crucial.
As Black History Month comes to end, we must actively — and not performatively — support legislation that could impact the lives of Black people in Baltimore. After months of protests, Bill 336 is a first step in the right direction. With focused and sustained activism, we can work toward the changes that both Hopkins and the Baltimore community need.