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Hopkins doesn’t need an armed police force, now or ever | COMMENTARY

Johns Hopkins University students last year staged a sit-in to protest against an armed police force on campus. The university has now said it will hold off on plans for such a force.
Johns Hopkins University students last year staged a sit-in to protest against an armed police force on campus. The university has now said it will hold off on plans for such a force. (Catherine Rentz / Baltimore Sun)

Dear President Daniels:

I write this letter to thank you for pausing the effort to arm a Johns Hopkins police force and to beseech you to look for alternative strategies to keep our campuses safe.

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Our country is reeling from 400 years of racism. From 400 years of white oppression and violence. From 400 years of using every type of power and especially firepower against black Americans.

I am not a black American. I cannot know the experience of living in America while black. I write as a citizen of Baltimore, as a Hopkins faculty member and as a mother.

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I moved my family to Baltimore in 2011. We live downtown, near Patterson Park. For nine years my children, husband and I have walked and biked this city. We have experienced crime. But overwhelmingly, more common we have experienced neighborliness from our fellow city dwellers.

For nine years I have walked to my office on S. Washington Street. Crime does occur along my route. Yet nine years of walking to and from work and no muggings, no assaults. Not even much in the way of gender-based harassment. Overwhelmingly, more often I have had the simple experience of a lovely walk.

For nine years my children have attended city schools — Hampstead Hill Academy and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. These are majority minority schools where black, brown and white children all perform well. It has been nine years of my boys walking or taking public transportation to and from these schools and just two instances of bullying by older kids. Overwhelmingly, more often are the experiences of camaraderie between the parents and kids making their way to school.

Along with our two boys, my husband and I helped raise a third child. A boy with Puerto Rican heritage. My white sons are more likely to experience unearned privilege than to experience police brutality. It is the opposite for our brown son.

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When I learned of your intent to arm police, what I thought about was the black or brown child who would get shot one day. What I wondered about was how a second gun makes any situation in which there is a first gun any safer. What I heard about were our black colleagues and our black students arguing against arming a Hopkins police force. How could we possibly move forward without their support?

Black faculty, staff, students and visitors have experienced over-policing at the hands of security officers employed by Hopkins and by campus police officers at other universities. Samuel DuBose, a black man, was killed by a white University of Cincinnati police officer in 2015.

While I appreciate that you took the time to build in safeguards to address and reduce these risks as Hopkins prepared to arm its force, I believe no amount of vetting, training, or supervision can guarantee that similar tragedies will not strike our own faculty, staff, students and visitors. And when tragedy does strike, it will almost certainly be against a person of color.

There is no doubt that Baltimore needs solutions to address violent crime. There is no doubt that faculty, staff and student safety must remain a priority on all of our campuses and in all of our buildings. And there is no doubt that arming a police force will cause many of our colleagues and our students to feel and to be less safe, not more.

As a proud faculty member of the world’s number one school of public health, I am confident that we have the right people in the right place to generate different solutions. Solutions that keep everyone equally safe and secure.

Bold steps are needed to fight against the racism that persists in our country. A two-year pause on arming our own police force is one good step. You have the power to take an even bolder step. That is to step back from guns altogether and ensure that no black man, woman, or child is ever killed from a bullet fired by a Hopkins police officer. You have the power to show the world that Hopkins truly believes Black Lives Matter.

Elizabeth J. Letourneau (ElizabethLetourneau@jhu.edu) is a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her views are her own.

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