Following protests that disrupted last week’s first town hall presentation of Johns Hopkins’ draft memorandum of understanding with the Baltimore Police Department, the university shifted its second town hall Thursday evening to a livestream-only format. Nevertheless, that event ended in protest, too, and also was moved to an at-home-only platform.
Attendees were told in advance that they could watch Thursday’s panel at home on video or in Turner Auditorium on Hopkins’ East Baltimore campus, which was originally set to host the second town hall completely in person. Regardless of the format change, which featured some input from community members, protesters arrived with signs and whistles. Attendees were asked to wait outside the fencing of the event, present identification and submit to a baggage check to enter. Protesters were told signs would not be allowed past the gate.
The event, scheduled to start at 7 p.m., did not let in attendees until after 6:45 p.m. The Coalition Against Policing by Hopkins planned to protest the town hall at 6 p.m. Within 10 minutes of opening the gate, protesters moved into the courtyard with signs and whistles. One attendee, who entered after showing her ID and leaving her sign behind, returned to the gate.
“I’m gonna go back for my sign,” she said.
Protesters took to the stage chanting and moved to the audience seating in attempts to cover the projector, which had started the livestream. At 7:30 p.m., a voice over the loudspeaker announced that the event was over. Everyone was asked to leave.
The livestream, which featured the same panelists from the previous week, addressed questions and comments about topics such as jurisdiction, the memorandum’s finalization process and police force accountability. The virtual town hall panelists were Hopkins Vice President for Public Safety Branville Bard Jr., Executive Director at Baltimore Community Mediation Center Erricka Bridgeford, Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Eric Melancon and Baltimore County’s legal adviser Rodney Hill. Kera Ritter moderated.
Hopkins is required by law to present the memorandum to the public at a minimum of two public town halls. The memorandum is needed for the university to create its own private armed police force and will outline jurisdictional terms between city and university police.
The university police force has been a contentious issue in the city the past few years. Some opponents of the force don’t want Hopkins to have any form of private armed police. They say they worry about how the force can be held accountable by a private university as well as how policing can lead to racial profiling in the community.
Bard, who is leading the force, said the school wants an armed force to help address violence. He said the university aims to have a comprehensive approach to addressing crime on campus and that it is currently missing that component.
The current version of the draft memorandum states that Hopkins’ police would have jurisdiction over any property that is owned, leased, operated by or under the control of the university, including specific boundaries outlined within its Homewood, East Baltimore and Peabody campuses. Public property immediately adjacent to the campus areas would also be under Hopkins’ police jurisdiction. Officers can operate outside these areas only if in pursuit of a suspect, directing traffic or given orders to do so by the mayor or governor.
The draft will go through a 30-day period, during which three town halls will take place for the community to provide feedback. Come mid-October, the memorandum will go to the City Council for another 30-day period. Bard said he wants to have a final version of the memorandum posted online by the end of the year.
Some attendees Thursday night came in hopes of asking questions and submitting comments, both for and against the police force. Before the announced end of the event, seated participants were asked to submit their comments via index card or text message.
Jacqueline Donowitz, who is in favor of the police force, sat next to her husband, Mark. She said they live a block from the Hopkins Homewood campus and that her husband works at the medical campus. A few weeks ago, she said, he was the victim of an attempted carjacking. She said some of her colleagues have been assaulted on the street.
She said she is concerned about police behavior and is in favor of the consent decree imposed on Baltimore Police. However, she said the police need extra help to address crime in the area.
“I don’t think any of these people have been mugged or carjacked,” Donowitz said, referring to the protesters.
Lauren Brunet, a Hopkins alumna, said evidence shows that more guns, whether they be owned by police or citizens, cause harm, and that a police force doesn’t promote public health. She said what happened to Mr. Donowitz was sad but rare. Brunet said the majority of crime takes place in communities.
“Hopkins [is] worried about a small subset,” she said.
Before the town hall Thursday evening, Bard said Hopkins is impacted by assaults, robberies and homicides, and that such crime can contribute to people not coming to Hopkins for academic or medical purposes out of safety concerns. When asked about concerns of racial profiling by the police force, Bard said those who experience racial profiling also suffer from crime. He said the solution is to remove improper behavior from policing.
Samuel Redd, the executive director of Operation P.U.L.S.E., expressed his agreement with the creation of a Hopkins police force.
“[I’m] supportive of any extra layer of support,” he said.
He said he works throughout the city and that crime is “out of control” and “not getting any better.” Redd said Hopkins has the right leadership, referring to Bard, to implement a “well-oiled police force.” He said he doesn’t expect the force to overextend itself and that if such an instance occurred, clergy in the city could go to Hopkins to ask for change.
East Baltimore community member Tehma Smith Wilson also shared her support for the police force, saying crime is all around her. She said she walks past people dealing drugs and that there are shooters in her area where she is trying to raise her 5-year-old.
“The more eyes and ears … the safer I feel,” Smith Wilson said.
Smith Wilson, CEO for the Baltimore nonprofit The Door, said she has worked with Hopkins in the past and that it is prepared to take on challenges in the city. She understands opposition to the police force but notes that critics don’t live or work where she does. She said the police force could be put on campuses where it’s wanted and not implemented where there is opposition.
The mother said she has skimmed the draft memorandum and said she is open to Hopkins expanding its jurisdiction beyond immediately adjacent sidewalks and further into the community.
At the previous town hall, panelists outlined that the following items are not subject to change within the memorandum: campus area jurisdictional boundaries, the definition of a university police officer, the use of body cameras and Hopkins police reporting requirements.
Kat Salazar, who works at Hopkins as a research technician, said she’s anti-Hopkins police.
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“I feel like they’re not getting to the root of the issue,” she said. “This feels anti-community to me.”
Salazar said the town hall last week was ridiculous — that it feels as if Hopkins is encouraging people to speak, then shutting events down when they do.
Dr. Zackary Berger, who has worked with Hopkins for 13 years, said the benefits of a police force are unsubstantiated and that detriments are “well-documented, concrete and fatal.”
“For a medical intervention, we wouldn’t recommend it.”
Johns Hopkins released a statement following the in-person town hall.
" Tonight’s was an important opportunity for conversation and community input on the MOU between the University and the Baltimore Police Department, and we are grateful to all who chose to participate this evening; the feedback captured from tonight’s conversation will directly inform the final operational agreement between the BPD and Johns Hopkins. We continue to encourage members of our community and neighbors throughout Baltimore to participate in the extensive MOU engagement process which includes the public comment period, city council review, and additional listening sessions.”
The last town hall will take place Friday online only at 1 p.m.