Johns Hopkins University students stage sit-in to protest an armed police force on campus. (Catherine Rentz/Baltimore Sun video)
About 15 Johns Hopkins University students sat below a large sign that read, “No private police, no ICE contracts, Justice for Tyrone West,” Thursday morning.
They were beginning their 23rd hour of a sit-in at Garland Hall, the campus administration building, as Hopkins graduates walked through for Alumni Weekend. It was the students’ latest action protesting both an armed police force on campus and contracts with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
The day before, hundreds of students and community members gathered as part of the protest along Wyman Park Dell. It was among the largest gatherings over the last year protesting the two issues.
Maryland lawmakers have given final approval to a bill that will allow the Johns Hopkins University to form its own police force in Baltimore. The Senate voted 42-2 to approve the bill, dubbed the “Community Safety and Strengthening Act.”
“We have been here to demand the end of militarization of our campus, Baltimore and country,” said Marios Falaris, a graduate anthropology student. “We want to end the complicity with ICE and tell the university ‘no’ to campus police.”
University spokeswoman Karen Lancaster defended the recently approved police measure in a statement that said, “the legislation puts in place measures to ensure public accountability, public transparency and public input, and we will work together to build a model of constitutional community policing.”
The bill, expected to go into effect July 1, would take several years to fully implement, Lancaster said.
“We will continue to work every day to strengthen relationships with the community and keep our campuses and surrounding areas safe. We also will have ongoing opportunities for community engagement, oversight, and input once the [Johns Hopkins Police Department] is operational.”
The Hopkins Coalition Against ICE organizers wrote in a statement that the university contracts enable “President Trump’s racist immigration policies of mass detainment, deportation and family separation.”
Corey Payne, a graduate student in sociology, said the protests aim to pressure Baltimore’s City Council to seek a referendum on the police force.
Conor Bean, a graduate student focusing on political science, said, “it should be noted that Hopkins burned every last inch of goodwill in the community. They passed this bill, but they are in for a hell of a fight as it comes back here.”
At the larger protest Wednesday, the students were joined by Tawanda Jones, whose brother, Tyrone West, died after an altercation with officers from Baltimore and Morgan State University during a traffic stop.
Jones said she has protested police brutality every Wednesday for 296 weeks since her brother’s death. She calls the demonstrations “West Wednesdays.” The students added “Justice for Tyrone West” to their banner as a show of solidarity.
Lancaster said the ICE training has “no relationship to the enforcement of immigration policies by the current or any other administration.”
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting our international and DACA students,” she continued, “offering broad access and support to our students, faculty, and staff without regard to immigration status and providing exceptional care to immigrant and refugee populations in our hospitals and clinics in the United States and around the world.”
Hopkins says a police force is badly needed as Baltimore experiences an uptick in violent crime. The city has seen more than 300 homicides a year for four consecutive years. Aggravated assault reports in East Baltimore and the Homewood neighborhood — where the university is located — have nearly doubled from 50 in 2014 to 98 in 2018, according to figures reported by Hopkins. Robberies increased to 97 from 45 over the same time period.
The protests against the police force gained steam during the legislative session, drawing a letter from more than 60 faculty members who wrote that a police force employed by the university would be “undemocratic” and “antagonistic” with Baltimore’s nonwhite population. The introduction of new armed police officers, they wrote, could pose an increased safety risk and “inevitably amplify the climate of fear and justify their roles by citing stops, arrests, and detainments.”