Students sitting in at Garland Hall on April 5, which was day three of the demonstration. Photo via Students Against Private Police/Facebook.

Today marks the one-week anniversary of Johns Hopkins University students taking to Garland Hall for an unannounced sit-in. They’ve been there seven days, protesting  the university’s legislature-backed plan for an armed police force, as well as Hopkins’ training contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Mira Wattal, a junior at Hopkins and member of the group Students Against Private Police, said organizers initially didn’t expect the sit-in to go past a day, thinking they’d instead get more attention for the march they held from campus to the Wyman Park Dell on April 3.

What’s happened since, however, is “insane,” she said. “The longer we go, the longer we keep pushing, the more energy that we bring, we just get more and more coverage.”

“It’s been really enlightening, energizing,” said Hopkins staffer Nikki Stachowiak of the Hopkins Coalition Against ICE, which has co-organized the sit-in.

Creating awareness around students’ opposition to Hopkins’ plans for an armed police force has been the chief goal of the campaign. It’s earned national attention and, much closer to home, the backing of faculty on campus.

Hopkins’ Faculty Assembly from the Homewood Schools this week sent a memo to school president Ronald Daniels after taking a vote on two resolutions Monday. The letter asks JHU administrators to respond to students’ and professors’ questions about officer accountability, campus surveillance, Daniels’ and other school brass’ timely donations of $16,000 in total to embattled Mayor Catherine Pugh’s campaign fund in January—just as the 2019 legislative session was kicking off—and more.

Moreover, the faculty association has called on the university to withdraw its armed police force plan, which calls for about 100 officers patrolling the Homewood, Peabody and East Baltimore campuses in the city.

“Given the numerous, valid concerns from faculty, students and community members about President Daniel’s [sic] plan to create an armed JHU police department,” the letter concluded, “the Faculty Assembly calls on the university to withdraw this plan and to consult more closely with faculty, students and community members before devising any new plan.”

As the sit-in has evolved, so has the programming. This morning, associate history professor Nathan Connolly delivered a talk to sit-in participants about police accountability and the history of racism in policing. Today also includes a screening at Garland Hall of Kathleen Collins’ 1982 film about racial identity, art and academia, “Losing Ground,” followed by another rally at the Wyman Park Dell.

There, student activists will demand Hopkins nix its police force plan, end contracts with ICE that have collected more than $1.5 million for the university and advocate for justice for victims of police misconduct, including the family of Tyrone West, killed in an altercation with city and Morgan State police in 2013.

The Hopkins Coalition Against ICE posted on Facebook yesterday that school security has been “tightening screws on the sit-in.” Notices from the school and city said security will heighten ID checks, close an entrance on the building’s south side, enforce a 35-person occupancy rule after the building closes and allow students to only occupy the first floor, among other rules.

Reached for comment, university spokeswoman Karen Lancaster referred Baltimore Fishbowl to a JHU webpage with the institution’s statement on the ongoing demonstration, the university’s policies for free speech and protest and those aforementioned notices to students.

“Protestors have been free to come and go during regular business hours and can bring or receive deliveries of food or other necessities,” the school said in a prepared statement dated April 7. It noted students can remain inside Garland Hall after 6 p.m., though those who leave overnight can only return when the building reopens the next day.

“No matter the location of protests on campus, protestors are expected to abide by protest guidelines and also must adhere to the principles of the Student Code of Conduct,” the school said.

After failing in 2018 to convince Baltimore’s state legislators to back proposed legislation for a police force for JHU—required because it’s a private institution, rather than a public one like Morgan State, Coppin State and the University of Maryland, which already have their own police departments—university officials succeeded this session in securing approval from the city delegation in Annapolis.

Among Baltimore’s six senators, only Mary Washington and Jill Carter opposed it, and among the 16 city delegates, only Nick Mosby, Melissa Wells, Regina Boyce, Stephanie Smith and Robbyn Lewis voted against the legislation.

Carter told Baltimore Fishbowl today that the sit-in effort has her “excited and encouraged.” As for the university’s response to the students, such as ID checks and restrictions, Carter said it shows the institution is being “tone deaf” in its efforts to bring more police to a city where many communities already don’t trust the cops.

“Clearly, the university continues to be tone deaf when it comes to actually listening to the will of the students and neighborhoods and surrounding community,” the 41st District senator said. “They don’t even understand how devastating it is to people and many communities to have the creation of a private police force that has the authority to police people and neighborhoods outside the campus of Hopkins.”

“That’s the real crux of the problem–it’s telling the world that, We aren’t going to let Baltimore infect us.”

The bill authorizes an armed police force for the institution while also requiring it undertake various measures, like making the department subject to the Maryland Public Information Act, creating an accountability board to review police data, training and more, and adding a hearing board for police misconduct cases.

As professors noted in their letter, 13 of the 15 accountability board members are university-appointed, and faculty are already questioning whether it will have “real power, including the power to investigate allegations of misconduct and discipline officers.”

JHU officials testified to lawmakers this spring that the new Hopkins PD can be a model department for the city to follow. Carter objects to that idea: “That’s absolutely not the truth, because the accountability measures are not adequate to enforce that.”

The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. Larry Hogan, who has indicated he supports the plan. It could also be vetoed, or take effect without his signature after 30 days.

One could wonder: Why are students bothering, given that the legislative component is pretty much a done deal?

Wattal said it’s about creating a more democratic process in which the campus and surrounding communities are heard, not merely given their time to speak. “The discussion can’t be closed, because we still have to be heard and listened to.”

She pointed out that community associations–a number of which opposed the bill this year–will still need to sign on to the legislation. And others are still fighting the creation of the police force. The separate Women Against Private Police Group, which has launched a petition to collect more than 69,000 signatures by end of June to block the bill from becoming law. If they reach that mark, the proposal would instead be put up to a ballot referendum for city voters in 2020.

“There’s so much more to be done,” Wattal said on a phone call from Garland Hall. “That’s why we say that we’re gonna be here until we need to.”

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...

2 replies on “As Hopkins students’ sit-in over police force reaches 7-day mark, professors call for JHU to withdraw plan”

  1. A correction: the law does not make JHU subject to the Maryland Public Information Act. It requires JHU to respond to public information requests “in the same manner” as agencies that are subject to the MPIA, and to provide certain records under certain conditions. But it explicitly states that these provisions DO NOT make an independent institution of higher education (of which JHU is one) subject to the MPIA. What that effectively means is that you can request a record, but if JHU says no or doesn’t even acknowledge your request, you have no recourse – unlike the MPIA where you can file a lawsuit.

    1. Hi Jillian, we never said the bill would make the entire university subject to the MPIA, but rather its planned police department. In fact, it looks like that language that you referenced was included specifically to prevent any misunderstandings that all of JHU would be grandfathered into the MPIA; it simply applies to the department under the legislation. To add, the bill specifically says information in records “created solely for law enforcement purposes” or “related to an arrest for a criminal offense” would be subject to MPIA.

      Granted, we can attest that Maryland’s MPIA law is already fairly toothless in terms of punishing agencies that don’t abide maximum time limits for responding to requests. And that would be no different if it covers Hopkins’ planned police department.

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