The University held a town hall meeting on Sept. 22 in Shriver Hall to hear community feedback on an initial draft of the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The event was disrupted by protesters, forcing the school to move the town hall online.
In 2020, the University announced a two-year pause on the implementation of the JHPD following student protests. At the beginning of the fall semester of 2022, the University announced intentions to resume the development of a private police force.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Vice President for Public Safety Dr. Branville Bard Jr. explained that establishing a private police force is necessary to keep campus safe.
“The prevailing model at colleges and universities is to provide policing services as part of a comprehensive public safety strategy,” he said. “It’s not anything new. It just puts us on par with our peers in the city of Baltimore, who all have armed police departments.”
Prior to the start of the town hall, protesters assembled outside of Shriver Hall as part of an organized ‘Die-In.’ A ‘Die-In’ is a type of protest where participants imitate being dead by laying on the floor.
The protesters included students and community members dissatisfied with the University’s plans for a private police department.
Junior Jay Lawrence explained that he joined the protest because he does not believe the JHPD will serve his interests in an interview with The News-Letter.
“I’m opposed because police, in my life experience, and for most of the people I know who’ve interacted with police, do nothing but protect the interests of property,” he said.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Baltimore resident Shorty stated that he feels an armed police department has no place on a college campus.
“What do you need guns on campus for? Seriously? If I was gonna come do something, the police couldn’t stop me whether they have guns or not, so that’s not a good excuse,“ he said. “This is supposed to be a learning center, not a training ground. That’s what they’re turning this into — a training ground.”
Shorty, who has lived in Baltimore for over thirty years, believes that police departments are often intended to criminalize being Black in America.
In an interview with The News-Letter, third-year PhD student Grant Hall asserted that the school does not understand the students’ objections to a private police department.
“We have some fundamental issues with the idea of policing,” he said. “Every response [from the school] seems to be like, ‘we want progressive police,’ or ‘a police department that’s different from every other police department,’ and I think that just fundamentally misunderstands what people here are doing.”
In an interview with The News-Letter, fifth-year PhD student Durgesh Solanki, one of the protest organizers, expressed similar skepticism.
“Hopkins has not been democratic in the process of making the private police institutionalized,” he said. “The faculty have passed a resolution saying they don’t need police. Students have passed a resolution saying they don’t need police, [but] in spite of this response from the community being overly negative, they are still going ahead with the institutionalization of the private police department.”
Once the doors to Shriver Hall opened, protestors laid down on walkways and stepped onto the stage. Protesters began to chant, “Hey-hey, ho-ho, these racist cops have got to go,” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
Protesters’ chants drowned out the University’s presenters. As a result, the panel of speakers vacated Shriver Hall. An announcement was made that the in-person event had finished and the town hall would be moved to a fully-virtual modality.
Protestors spotted Bard outside and confronted him with chants, questions and demands for dialogue. Bard declined response. When Bard walked away from Shriver and towards the Wyman Park Building, he was followed by a group of several dozen protesters. When Bard attempted to enter his vehicle, his way was blocked by the crowd, who placed a banner over the windshield of the car.
Unable to drive away from campus, Bard walked several blocks to the Campus Safety and Security building, tailed still by a group of protesters. Once there, he retreated inside, and protestors dispersed shortly after.
In an interview with The News-Letter, senior Ingrid Villarreal said she hopes the protest encourages the University to accept community feedback.
“[The University should] at minimum take a pause, listen to the community about this [and] have conversations with community leaders or something, but honestly I don’t think that’ll be enough,“ she said.
In an email to The News-Letter, Director of Strategic Communications Megan Christin released a statement summarizing the University’s view on the events that transpired during the town hall.
“At Johns Hopkins, we strongly value free expression and fully support the right to protest,” she wrote. “We also believe we must be able to engage civilly across our differences and have difficult conversations about the challenging issues we face together as a community, such as public safety.”
She encouraged community members to participate in the two upcoming town halls.
Following these events, a virtual town hall was held on the University’s website, where an overview of the draft MOU was presented. The panel included Bard, Baltimore Police Department Operations Director Eric Melancon and Rodney Hill and Erricka Bridgeford of the Baltimore Community Mediation Center.
During the town hall, Bard stated that after the third town hall meeting on Sept. 30, the University will present the MOU to the Baltimore City Council for a 30-day period of review. The University anticipates that the plans for the JHPD will not be finalized until late November or December.
Bard emphasized that community input will play a key role in the MOU’s development.
“It’s expected that the final draft of the MOU will look completely different based on the input we receive from the community during this valuable feedback process,” he said.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Bridgeford’s name. The original article also incorrectly stated that Morgan State University and the University of Baltimore have private police forces.
The News-Letter regrets these errors.