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Student sit-ins at Johns Hopkins University over private police and ICE reach second week

Students Against Private Police (SAPP) protest in Annapolis against Johns Hopkins having a private police force. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)

Protests at the Johns Hopkins University continued this week as students voiced their displeasure with the idea of a private police force and contracts the school has with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Protests began earlier this month with about 15 university students as lawmakers passed a bill that would allow the school to make its own police force independent of the Baltimore Police Department.

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The protest marches and daily sit-ins, which started April 3, have expanded in size, and organizers are stepping up their social media campaigns as part of the effort.

In a post on Facebook on Wednesday, students again called on university President Ronald Daniels to respond to their demands, writing that students are considered “for the well-being of a University veering towards authoritarianism.”

Marios Falaris, one of the main organizers, told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that administrative officials “continue to refuse to negotiate & have begun threatening protesters with disciplinary action.”

The university issued a statement saying that while students have a right to protest and express controversial views, they do not have a right to occupy buildings, disrupt events and services, or endanger the the health and safety of its members. The university statement also said that “the students and community members occupying the lobby and other spaces of Garland Hall are currently in contravention of these policies.”

The president and provost “meet regularly with students from across the university, even when the issues raised are difficult and the views presented are in opposition to their own. But they do not meet with students or organizations who are in clear violation of university policy,” the statement said.

Gov. Larry Hogan is expected to sign a bill approved by lawmakers earlier this month that would allow for the creation of a private police force in a defined area around the university’s Homewood academic campus, the medical campus in East Baltimore and the Peabody Institute conservatory in Mount Vernon.

In a column published in The Baltimore Sun, student Ezinne Ogbonna said he was “systemically surveilled and stopped by Hopkins security” because of his race and said the school’s lack of a response to protesters “leaves me with little hope that Hopkins will have anything more than a deaf ear for voice of opposition.”

Lawmakers and school officials have stressed that it would take several years to implement a police force at the university, and university spokeswoman Karen Lancaster has defended the legislation as one that includes proper transparency and accountability measures. She added there will be “ongoing opportunities for community engagement.”

Hopkins officials said the community and students had numerous opportunities to debate the issues.

Hopkins also has three contracts with ICE totaling more than $1.7 million, all of which are set to expire this year.

While the contracts are mostly for educational programs that provide emergency medical training and leadership education, a growing chorus of staff and students at the school has called on officials to end their relationship with the agency. The movement began last year when a group collected nearly 2,000 signatures from faculty, staff, students and alumni, and petitioned the school to end its agreement with ICE.

Daniels has previously rejected demands to end the contracts, saying the university is protecting academic freedom.

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