One year ago, Tim Rothermel joined a Families Belong Together rally to protest federal immigration policies that separated families and children at the United States’ southern border.
So he was a little disappointed to find himself in the middle of Baltimore under a searing sun to — once again — protest actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It’s sad we have to keep going,” said Rothermel, who drove an hour from Elkton to join an anti-ICE march through Artscape, billed as the nation’s largest free arts festival.
“It’s getting worse and worse and honestly, nothing is going to change until more and more people keep going out to events like this,” said Rothermel, 35, a pharmaceutical sales representative.
More than 100 activists joined Rothermel in the protest organized by the advocacy group Jews United for Justice. Many said they weren’t scared off by temperatures well into the upper 90s that caused health officials to warn people to be cautious in the heat.
Just to be safe, organizers arranged for two medics to join participants as they chanted and sang as they made their way through the festival.
The goal of the march was not just to raise awareness about ICE actions, but also to highlight two Artscape sponsors who have ties to ICE: Johns Hopkins University and PNC Bank.
Hopkins has multiple contracts for educating and training ICE agents, while PNC has provided financing for companies that build private prisons that house ICE detainees, according to march organizers.
Officials at neither Hopkins nor PNC responded to requests for comment on Sunday.
But Hopkins President Ron Daniels previously defended the ICE contracts as a matter of academic freedom. In a statement last fall, Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar said it would be inappropriate for the university to dictate to professors and researchers who they can educate and who they cannot.
“Our colleagues believe that their programs serve the public interest by providing quality education and emergency medical training that ultimately benefits those who interact with the agency,” wrote Daniels and Kumar.
Dr. Zack Berger, an internist at a Johns Hopkins outpatient center on Caroline Street, donned his white coat to join the march and speak out against his employer.
“I think collaborating with a government agency that commits moral wrongs against patients is not defensible,” said Berger, 46.
Berger also treats immigrant patients at the Catholic Charities Esperanza Center in Fells Point. Some of his patients may fear deportation, he said.
He said he hopes Hopkins leaders will hear his message.
“They need to carefully consider whether the loss of moral face in the community is worth the monetary gain,” Berger said.
The marchers carried signs with slogans such as “Immigrants Welcome in Baltimore," “Close the camps” and “No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here.”
They recited chants, including “JHU! Shame on you!" and “Stop family separation! It’s a moral obligation!”
Brant Berndlmaier, 40, carried a “Smash ICE” poster and handed out fliers to festival-goers that detailed how they could contact Hopkins and PNC officials to register their opposition to involvement with ICE.
He said he believes that the federal government’s treatment of immigrants and refugees at the country’s southern border represents “dehumanization at its basest.”
Berndlmaier said he recently quit his job doing government agency support for Verizon. One of the agencies that Verizon has a contract with is ICE, and even if it’s just cell phone support. Berndlmaier said he no longer wanted to be a part of it. He’s been volunteering to greet arriving immigrants at local bus stations and attending rallies.
Even with the heat, he was eager to walk a few blocks from his home to join the Jews United for Justice march.
“I showed up and said, ‘I’m not a Jew, but I’m for justice,’” Berndlmaier said.
As the marchers reached the Johns Hopkins University stage, they were pleasantly surprised that members of the band on stage doing a sound check, Survival Society, started playing and singing along as they chanted: “No human being can ever be illegal.”
Survival Society’s musicians placed signs from the marchers on the stage and stood by during a final round of speeches and the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer that honors the memory of the dead.
Then the band and demonstrators joined together, singing “We Rise” by Batya Levin:
"We rise, all of the children rise,
"Elders with wisdom rise,
"Ancestors surround us,
"In hope, in prayer, we find ourselves here,
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“In hope, in prayer, we’re right here.”