As a 30-year resident of Baltimore City, an organizer and alumna of Hopkins’ schools of public health and medicine, I am proud to see these students challenge the administration to be more democratic and ethical. They are asking the university to identify alternative and ethical means of security at their campuses and to end all contracts with ICE. Both measures by the university — installing a private police force around its three city campuses in Middle East Baltimore, Mt. Vernon, and Charles Village/Remington and continuing to support ICE through contractual training totaling almost $9 million to date — encourage continued use of violence against people who have been historically marginalized and oppressed.
Students and community members fear that a Hopkins private police force will exacerbate violence in communities that have been historically exploited by the university. They protest the hospital and university’s taking of 59 acres of land in East Baltimore in the 1950s, and under urban renewal in the 20th century, that displaced more than 1,300 families who were mostly black. And they protest the taking of 88 acres of land in East Baltimore in the 2001 under urban renewal, in the 21st century, that displaced more than 750 black families. They understand that a private police force is simply a continuation of this long history of uneven development and would only continue this history of exploitation in the communities surrounding its campuses. And they understand that supporting ICE continues the national history of U.S. exploitation of black and brown new immigrants. Their protest against violence as a means to build just communities have been going strong for more than a year and will continue until the Johns Hopkins administration is willing to discuss alternative measures with students and community.
Students are connecting with other universities nationally and internationally who are also protesting the use of violence instead of more peaceful and civilized ways to address historical conflict. The administration has been running the university on an economic bottom line for decades, listening to a board of trustees and alumni who donate large dollars to the university. But the dollars brought by student tuition is not small change either. If the administration cannot bring an ethical lens to the negotiations, they may want to consider the effect of their actions on the acute and long term success of the institution, the dollars of current student tuition and alumni of the future. The president of Johns Hopkins University insists that the university wants to be a moral actor in the city, to live into the ethical ideals and practices that this means. To do so, he and his board should begin to listen to the people they say they’re trying to help. As well as their students and faculty who voted to support the efforts of the student occupation.