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Protesters march across Johns Hopkins University campus, demanding end to stalled plan for private police force

Protesters demand that the implementation of a campus police force be canceled.

A group of about 100 protesters marched Monday across the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus in North Baltimore to paper the front door and windows of university President Ron Daniels’ house with copies of a faculty petition calling for an end to a stalled plan for a private university police force.

The group of students, faculty, alumni and community members carried banners and chanted “No justice! No peace! No private police!” and “Hey-hey! Ho-ho! Ron Daniels has got to go!” through megaphones as they crossed campus and filled the university president’s front yard.

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Then they tried, unsuccessfully, to draw him outside for a conversation by reading aloud from the petition, knocking on the front door and chanting: “Ron Daniels! Don’t hide! Come outside!”

The demonstration was the latest action taken to protest Hopkins’ plan to form a private police force to patrol its Baltimore campuses. School officials recently decided to pause the hotly contested move for two years amid the ongoing national reckoning over police violence against minorities following the killing of George Floyd and other Black people by law enforcement.

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Several of the demonstrators responded to that plan with signs bearing messages such as “IN 2 YEARS, COPS WILL STILL BE KILLERS” and “NO JHU POLICE — NOT NOW, NOT IN 2 YEARS, NOT EVER!” Monday’s march followed more than a year of protests against the planned police force, most notably a month-long sit-in at the university’s administration building last spring.

Mihir Chaudhary, who recently graduated with a master’s degree from Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, said he saw the delay as an inauthentic “stall tactic.”

Many of the student activists who have led demonstrations against the police force will graduate in that time, said Chaudhary, 30, who lives in Mount Vernon.

“It’s clearly a way for the university to ride the national discontent and outrage over police killings and police violence against communities of color,” he said. “We see this as clearly a strategic move on the part of the university to still have its police force and avoid some of the public-relations disaster that comes along with that announcement.”

Hopkins halted the process of forming its police force “so we can engage in and be informed by the broader efforts to reform policing,” university spokeswoman Karen Lancaster said in an emailed statement.

“Our goal is to reduce as much as possible our reliance on sworn policing as a public safety strategy,” she wrote.

The university also has contributed $2 million to bring the nationally recognized Roca program to Baltimore to intervene on behalf of high-risk youths and provided faculty guidance for the work of Safe Streets Baltimore, a peer-to-peer violence interruption program, Lancaster noted.

“We intend to continue and expand on those efforts in the years ahead,” she said.

Allowing an armed, private police force to patrol the Hopkins campus “would reproduce and crystallize the divide between Baltimore and Hopkins,” said Lester Spence, a Hopkins professor of political science and Africana studies.

“It would double down on policing as a solution to a range of community problems,” Spence said. “Even if it was theoretically possible — it’s not — to create a perfectly trained police force, it wouldn’t be possible to deal with what I call the ‘Karen’ problem.”

Offering an example, Spence recalled an email he received in 2011 about a white student who called security on a Black student in the Hopkins library. Security officers responded, harassed the Black student, then left, he said.

“That security force did what they were tasked to do,” Spence said. “So, even if we have a police force that was properly trained, there’s that issue that can’t really be reconciled.”

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Kristin Brig, a member of Teachers and Researchers United, a movement of graduate student workers unionizing under SEIU Local 500, said a private police force will “threaten, more than help, our community.”

“This police force will cost millions of dollars,” Brig said. “That the administration is willing to put those dollars towards a highly problematic plan instead of towards the workers and the community fundamental to university life is abominable.”

Natalie Segers, a nurse at an inpatient unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a member of National Nurses United, noted that the police force would be responsible for patrolling the East Baltimore hospital complex, too.

When hospital patients become unruly or lash out, often as a result of disorientation or other mental health issues, the nurses sometimes have to call security to help restrain them, Segers said.

“These occurrences need to be managed with calming, nonviolent holds, with de-escalation techniques, until staff can medically manage the neurological, biological trauma response that occurs here, until we can help the patient return to their baseline,” Segers said. “Adding cops to the system is only going to further traumatize our patients. ... Medical trauma is real, and we don’t need to be adding police trauma to that experience.”

Adding a private police force won’t make Hopkins safer for minority students or the majority of Baltimoreans who are Black, said Nariman El Said, 31, a member of the Greater Baltimore chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, who participated in the march.

“The Hopkins proposal for a private police force absolutely has nothing to do with public safety,” she said. “It’s meant to create an image of increased safety, specifically for outside applicants. It has nothing to do with the safety of Baltimore City residents.”

El Said expressed disgust over recent images of “doctors waddling around in garbage bags, while cops are in full riot gear to disperse peaceful protesters.”

“It’s insane,” Said said, “and that’s what we’re out here to protest.”

James Williams, 23, a volunteer coordinator with the Tubman House in Sandtown Winchester who joined the march, said he has been inspired by the efforts of the Hopkins protest organizers, especially the monthlong Garland Hall sit-in.

Noting the partial demolition of the Gilmor Homes housing project, Williams said he wondered why officials in Baltimore have been unable to come up with ways to improve Black peoples’ lives, instead of policing and uprooting them.

“This is a moment, across this country, where everything and anything is possible,” he said. “It’s a tangible place where we can win — Johns Hopkins can change.”

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