Johns Hopkins protesters and students share their displeasure over the creation of a private police force and the university's contracts with ICE. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun video)

A monthlong sit-in at the Johns Hopkins University’s main administration building — which escalated last week when students locked down Garland Hall — came to an end early Wednesday with the arrest of seven protesters.

Hopkins students and other activists had staged a sit-in since April 3, and they locked down the building May 1, chaining doors shut, covering windows and forcing the administration building to close during the final week of the university’s spring semester. The lockdown prompted the university to suspend or relocate services such as financial aid, disability, academic advising and student visas, officials said.

Advertisement

The group demanded the university cancel its plan — recently approved by the Maryland General Assembly — to create a private university police force, end its contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and advocate more forcefully against police brutality.

“This is an effort to protect black, brown, queer and all marginalized people who Hopkins is actively endangering,” Turquoise Baker, a Hopkins junior who participated in the sit-in, said after Baltimore Police cleared the building.

Firefighters cut the chains from the doors, and Baltimore Police Maj. Rich Gibson, who oversees the Northern District, addressed the protesters as they chanted, “No justice, no peace! No private police! No justice, no peace! No ICE in our streets!” in a video posted to Facebook before 5 a.m.

Members of the group were offered academic and criminal immunity if they left the building, but five were arrested after refusing to do so. More protesters quickly gathered outside the building before 7 a.m., trying to stop the police vans carrying away fellow protesters. Two were arrested after lying on the ground in front of the vehicles.

Two undergraduate students, two graduate students and three community members were among those arrested, according to student protesters. All the charges, which included trespassing and impeding vehicle traffic, will be “abated by arrest” and dropped, said Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

The arrested protesters were released later Wednesday.

In a letter to campus Wednesday afternoon, Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels said calling the police on them was a “difficult decision” that came after the university “made every effort to accommodate the underlying protest because we hold so firmly to the belief in free expression.”

“Invoking the help of law enforcement in ending an occupation involving our students is — and must always be — a last resort, one that we took today only in the face of mounting safety concerns and untenable disruption of essential student services and university activities,” he wrote.

Karter James Burnett, another Hopkins junior and protest organizer, said the group wants the community to pay attention to the police response as well as the protest itself.

“Look at the people who were arrested, who were put into cop cars, who had 80 cops surround them, when they have done nothing wrong but fight for their lives,” he said. “When they have done nothing wrong but want to help the community that they have lived in. When they have done nothing wrong but wanting to make sure that their friends and faculty members and community members were safe.”

Police initially did not know how many people would be on the scene, and some reports indicated more than 100 people were inside and outside the building, said Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.

"We had the appropriate response," Harrison said.

A transgender protester who identifies as a woman was misgendered by an officer during her arrest. Police contacted Central Booking to ensure she was processed correctly "as soon as supervisors were made aware of the situation," the department said in a statement. Officials are reviewing the incident.

This is an effort to protect black, brown, queer and all marginalized people who Hopkins is actively endangering.


Share quote & link

Harrison said he was closely involved in overseeing the operation that led to the arrests and had been in contact with the university's leadership.

Advertisement

"I'm absolutely confident we complied with [protesters’] First Amendment rights. We gave clear warnings about the violations they were actually committing,” Harrison said.

City Solicitor Andre Davis said city lawyers were involved in reviewing the operation and ensured it complied with the city's federal civil rights consent decree.

"I have to tell you, the behavior of the Baltimore City Police in this instance was a model," Davis said, "was a model of restraint, control and respect to the students. Nobody got run over. Nobody got hurt.

"This is the way the Baltimore City Police Department is doing business going forward."

But state Sen. Mary Washington, a Baltimore Democrat who opposed Hopkins’ push for a private police force during the last legislative session, said the university could have avoided the situation altogether.

“If Johns Hopkins had engaged students’ concerns from the very beginning, it would not have grown into this larger movement,” she said. “I’m calling on President Daniels to negotiate a nonconditional conversation with the students. Just talk to the students.”

Hopkins officials said they were worried about the safety of students inside Garland Hall. The protesters covered the building's security cameras and windows, leaving officials with little knowledge of what was happening within.

A city fire marshal visited the sit-in April 8 and directed protesters to keep the building’s entrances and exits cleared at all times. The protesters appeared to have violated the fire code by chaining the doors shut and blocking stairwells.

Vital student-centered offices are housed at Garland Hall, including the Office of Student Disability Services. Many students with disabilities come there to take exams if they need test accommodations. Some exams had to be postponed because of the occupation — and finals started Wednesday.

I support what they're doing. ... I just think it could've been done in a way that doesn't alienate people who need services from Garland.


Share quote & link

Students workers also come to the main administration building to pick up their checks — and were initially prevented from doing so because of the takeover. The Office of International Services is also based in Garland.

Advertisement

Hopkins junior Maddie Slack, who relies on disability services to take tests, initially supported the protesters. She donated to their GoFundMe page so they could buy food and supplies, and she doesn't think a campus police force will be good for Hopkins and the community.

But when the protesters took full control of the building, Slack said, they didn’t take into account the many other student groups who rely on Garland to get help.

"I support what they're doing, and I believe it’s correct they're challenging the administration," she said. "I just think it could've been done in a way that doesn't alienate people who need services from Garland."

Jamie Grace Alexander, one of the protesters, said she is worried a private police force will be less accountable to the community than the city’s police department, a public agency.

“We have trouble holding the Baltimore City police accountable to their own standards and the standards we have set with them,” Alexander said. “We are unconvinced that Johns Hopkins would hold its private police force to the standards that we have for our community.”

Burnett, another student protester, said he is concerned that a private Hopkins police force will continue historical abuses of minorities by police in Baltimore and elsewhere across the country.

“I care because I am black. I care because I’m queer,” Burnett said. “I care because I understand the implications that a private police force will have on black and brown and queer bodies. I care because historically police have been abusing black bodies.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Sarah Meehan and Catherine Rentz contributed to this article.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement