“A few minutes after 1 p.m. we’re going to start marching,” a faculty member announced to a crowd of about 50 who gathered on the Johns Hopkins University campus Wednesday afternoon to protest the proposed creation of a private armed university police force.
“Who wants the bullhorn?” she asked. “I don’t want it.”
The group followed a path around the Homewood campus, occasionally chanting and stopping to invite protesters to speak through the megaphone.
Months after Johns Hopkins and the Baltimore Police Department agreed to a draft memorandum of understanding, a crucial document that will define jurisdictional boundaries, students, faculty, staff and community members continue to protest the proposed Johns Hopkins Police Department. However, the energy and hope around the protests and their ability to cause change have dwindled since the September town halls, at which protesters disrupted events with posters and incessant chanting.
Since September, Hopkins has planned to finalize the memorandum by the end of 2022, though a specific date has not been set.
“I have very little hope at this point,” Hopkins junior David Donald said. “But it’s still good to show support.”
Donald, who attended high school at Baltimore City College, said most community members near campus areas are against the idea of an armed Hopkins police force. He said he, too, disagrees with the police force and believes university funding could be put toward a different, better solution for campus safety.
Fellow junior Rachel Fink, who also attended City College, said students have been protesting the Hopkins police force for years. As a high school student, she showed up at the 2019 monthlong sit-in to interview participants.
She said Hopkins will continue to ignore students’ opinions on the matter, but students will keep mobilizing until their wants are recognized.
“It’s absurd that Hopkins isn’t acknowledging the demands of its students or the potential consequences of the police force,” Fink said.
Hopkins senior Bonnie Jin also recognized how long students have protested the creation of a private armed university police force.
“My entire experience at Johns Hopkins has been marked by this proposal,” said Jin, who started at the university in 2017.
One protester, Joan Floyd, is extending the fight to court. Floyd, along with Donald Gresham and Kushan Ratnayake, is suing the Baltimore Police Department, the State of Maryland and Hopkins as part of an effort to block the final memorandum.
In the lawsuit, the three claim they use the public areas immediately adjacent to Hopkins’ defined campus areas and would be “placed within the jurisdiction of a Johns Hopkins University Police Department,” to which they are all opposed.
The lawsuit was filed the day after Hopkins’ first community town hall in September.
The plaintiffs also argue that the timeline for creating the police force interferes with the possible transfer of the Baltimore Police Department from Maryland to the city itself, especially since the memorandum refers to the Baltimore Police Department as “an agency and instrumentality of the State of Maryland.”
Hopkins is required by law to make the draft memorandum available online for 60 days before it can be finalized, and that countdown ended in mid-November, days after the Nov. 8 general election when 82.8% of city voters approved Question H, which will give the city power over the Baltimore Police Department.
“For the Police Department of Baltimore City — in the few days that remain before it comes under City control — to autonomously authorize the establishment and operation of a Johns Hopkins University Police Department within the City of Baltimore, would violate the will of Baltimore City voters and subject the Plaintiffs to an unprecedented, private law enforcement agency that is not the result of decision-making by elected officials of the City of Baltimore,” the lawsuit reads.
Hopkins spokesperson Megan Christin said in an email Nov. 10 that the school does not anticipate Question H having an impact on the memorandum.
Floyd questioned why Hopkins is pushing to have the memorandum of understanding finalized by the end of the year if Question H doesn’t affect plans for the police force.
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“You can tell it matters to them,” Floyd said.
Emil Volcheck, a representative for the Abell Improvement Association, also attended the protest. He said his organization, along with Harwood Community Association, Waverly Improvement Association, Old Goucher Community Association and Greater Remington Improvement Association, has sent letters to Hopkins President Ron Daniels and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison opposing the creation of a Hopkins police force.
Volcheck said this protest felt different from what happened at the first town hall.
“As a matter of law, the [memorandum] could be signed any day now,” Volcheck said.
Along the way, the crowd shrank to about 40 participants. There were later events planned as part of a full day of protesting, ending at City Hall with the goal of honoring all victims of police brutality and violence, including Tyrone West, who died during an altercation with Baltimore Police officers during a 2013 traffic stop.
At the end of the route, a protester took the megaphone and asked people to come up and speak.
“I don’t like megaphones that much,” they said, imploring someone to speak their mind against the police force.