U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings came Tuesday to Annapolis to urge the Baltimore delegation to the House of Delegates to approve the creation of an armed Johns Hopkins University police force, a step the panel took over the cries of protesters.
Citing Baltimore’s high crime rate, the chairman of the powerful U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said more must be done to combat the onslaught of killings in Baltimore. The city has seen more than 300 homicides a year for four consecutive years.
"I’ve come to you to beg you to do something. I’m begging you,” said Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat. “Blood will be spilled. … I could not sleep unless I came to share these thoughts with you."
Shortly after the congressman spoke, protesters opposed to the proposed force at the private university interrupted the meeting, chanting, “No justice! No peace! No private police!”
Nevertheless, the delegation voted 9-4 in favor of the legislation. Delegates Curt Anderson, Dalya Attar, Talmadge Branch, Frank Conaway, Cheryl Glenn, Keith Haynes, Brooke Lierman, Maggie McIntosh and Samuel Rosenberg voted for the bill.
Delegates Regina Boyce, Robbyn Lewis, Nick Mosby and Melissa Wells were opposed. Del. Tony Bridges recused himself because he works for Hopkins. Delegates Luke Clippinger and Stephanie Smith were absent. All are Democrats.
The legislation would permit a university police department of no more than 100 officers that would replace a unit of armed, off-duty Baltimore Police Department officers and sheriff’s deputies whom Hopkins pays to patrol near its three campuses. Maryland law allows public institutions to operate police departments, including Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Baltimore. Hopkins — as a private institution — is not currently authorized to have such a force.
Cummings said no one from the university asked him to travel to the state capital to address the lawmakers. He said he was skipping his own committee’s work in Washington to testify.
Cummings said he hears from parents from other states worried about sending their kids to Hopkins, considering Baltimore’s crime levels.
“They come to me and say, ‘Congressman, I want to send my kid to Hopkins, but is it safe?’ ” Cummings said.
He also referred to the fatal shooting of his 20-year-old nephew, Christopher Cummings, in 2011 near the campus of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
Christopher Cummings’ roommate also was wounded in the attack near a house they rented about a block from the school. At the time, residents in their neighborhood had been plagued by robberies and home invasions, according to The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk. Police have not arrested any suspects or publicly discussed a potential motive, the Pilot reported, but the congressman has described the shooting as a random assault.
Cummings represented Baltimore in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1983 to 1996.
Glenn, who is chairwoman of the Baltimore state House delegation, said after the vote that she found Cummings’ testimony moving.
“I was very moved, because I’ve seen violence in my own family — my immediate family,” Glenn said. "We need help in Baltimore city. My brother was murdered at 26 years old. My brother lived with me. He was my best friend. It brought things full circle for me.”
The vote came after several lawmakers attempted unsuccessfully to amend the bill. Mosby tried to include $2 million in state funding to combat the effects of lead poisoning.
“Policing alone will not do it,” said Mosby , adding that the legislation needs to target the root causes of crime.
Baltimore's Senate delegation — which was considered the legislation’s greatest hurdle — narrowly endorsed the bill last week. It was then approved by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The full Senate was scheduled to take up the matter Wednesday.
The Hopkins bill — named the Community Safety and Strengthening Act — would require the state to provide $3.5 million for city youth programs and another $1 million for the YouthWorks summer jobs program. It also calls for the Hopkins police force to establish at least one Police Athletic League center in Baltimore. The bill also mandates the state contribute $10 million for capital spending on community development projects.
The Baltimore House delegation met Tuesday to consider the bill as amended by senators. Senators made changes to require Hopkins police to wear body cameras and comply with the Maryland Public Information Act, including requests to see complaints of misconduct against officers. Another change would bar the university from shielding officers from lawsuits using government-immunity arguments.
And the legislation would restrict Hopkins police patrols to the Homewood campus, the medical campus and the Peabody Institute in Mount Vernon. The force only would be allowed to patrol nearby if the university gains support from neighboring community associations. Officers could, however, respond to an urgent public safety emergency near the campus, the amendments state.
Despite the amendments by senators, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund submitted testimony against the bill.
“We echo the fears of community members, who have assembled in opposition to a JHU campus police force, that any new campus police may lead to an increase in incidents of racial profiling and an influx of firearms on campus,” NAACP Legal Defense Fund president Sherrilyn Ifill wrote. “It is imperative that other approaches be explored before opting for the most drastic and high-risk measure.”
The protesters who interrupted the meeting said afterward they were disappointed in the lawmakers’ actions.
Chris Bilal, an activist who lives near the school’s East Baltimore medical campus and was escorted out of the meeting, said if the legislature passes it would only continue to build a “mass incarceration system.”
“We’re disappointed our black legislators are basically calling the cops on us right now,” Bilal said.