In the aftermath of a police raid on a nearly 40-day sit-in Johns Hopkins University’s Garland Hall this morning, city prosecutors said they won’t be pursuing charges against seven individuals arrested by police.
In a statement today, Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Melba Saunders said “all charges brought against the students will be abated by arrest.”
In addition to two undergraduate and two graduate students, the group of seven included three community members. Five had been arrested for trespassing, and two others for impeding vehicle traffic after arrestees had already been placed in vans, police said.
The raid by police broke up a prolonged protest by students and advocates against Hopkins’ legislature-cosigned plan to form an armed police force with up to 100 officers, as well as the university’s ongoing contracts with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.
A week earlier, a contingent of demonstrators occupied the administrative building on the Homewood campus, chaining themselves to the stairs and locking the doors shut. It was an escalation from one month earlier, when students organized a sit-in beginning April 3 in protest of the police force and ICE training contracts that totaled $1.5 million over several years. Students had sought to negotiate with Hopkins president Ronald Daniels to nix the police force and put an end to the deal between the university and ICE.
Early this morning, Baltimore police sent dozens of officers to the building hours after protesters declined to leave. Hopkins said in a release that it had offered the students immunity from criminal charges and student conduct code violations. Reporters at the scene said police issued warnings to the students inside–albeit with the soundproof doors and windows remaining shut–before they forced open the doors to the building.
Garland Hall sit-in participants said in a statement this afternoon that there were more than 80 officers, as well as a police helicopter and fire department personnel at the scene.
Students said today that hours before the raid, they responded to an email from Daniels’ office with a message that “reiterated our commitment to an expedited negotiation in the interest of all parties involved,” and that “included proposed times to meet with the university administration in a show of good faith to expedite peaceful negotiations and to work out the details of amnesty.”
“That the university responded to our requests by arresting our colleagues with no warning demonstrates a worrying disregard for our repeated attempts to negotiate,” they said in a statement.
Students launched the surprise sit-in at the administrative building at the southern end of the Homewood campus last month, lining the building with posters calling out Daniels and other highly paid administrators, condemning the police force plan and advocating for causes such as justice for the family of Tyrone West and opposing police brutality. For weeks, the Garland Hall sit-in hosted guests speakers, including civil rights historians and harm-reduction advocates, film screenings and more.
Students also earned the support of faculty, who signed a letter calling for university officials to meet with the protesters and reconsider the armed police force plan, as well as student protest groups at other universities.
A Hopkins spokesperson said JHU’s administration “has gone to extraordinary lengths to accommodate the protest in Garland Hall since it started more than a month ago, and has attempted to engage with students to find a resolution following forcible occupation of the building last week.”
“We had hoped to find a constructive means to resolve this increasingly dangerous situation, and we are disappointed that the decisions of the protesters necessitated a law enforcement response,” the statement continued. “We remain open to dialogue and will continue to support our students as we find ways to move forward together.”
Students said those “extraordinary lengths” included reaching out to protesters’ emergency contacts “and misleading them by saying that President Daniels repeatedly offered to meet”—Hopkins students last month published a video of Daniels walking away from students trying to engage him—and “surveilling students with cameras” and ramping up monitoring of the area with additional guards, videographers and security cameras.
Hopkins’ statement this morning said after the sit-in escalated to a full occupation last Wednesday, students covered up security cameras and chained the doors shut from the inside.
When officers arrested students and placed them into vans today, police reportedly misgendered a transgender female student, forcing her into a van for male-identifying arrestees. Councilman Zeke Cohen (1st District) said he was “disturbed” by that news, and that he would bring it up to Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.
Disturbed to learn that a BPD officer misgendered a trans woman. Students have the right to protest. People have the right to be who they are. Today I will speak to Commissioner Harrison about this violation.
We have a long way to go toward becoming an inclusive city. https://t.co/jZxw1uLI9g
— Zeke Cohen (@Zeke_Cohen) May 8, 2019
Students had cited the particular threat posed by armed officers to LGBTQ individuals and people of color as one of their reasons for opposing the police force plan throughout the last month. Federal investigators raised concerns about BPD relations with LGBTQ individuals in their 2016 report on the department, noting “concerns that BPD’s interactions with transgender individuals reflect underlying unlawful gender bias.”
Speaking with The Sun, Harrison defended the number of officers BPD sent out as “an appropriate response,” and said he had overseen the raid to ensure police gave ample warning before entering the building and did not violate protesters’ rights.
City Solicitor Andre Davis, the city’s top attorney, this morning also deemed the response “absolutely appropriate” during a media briefing at City Hall, and said the Law Deparmtent spoke with Harrison before police cracked down on Garland Hall.
“I have to tell you, the behavior of the Baltimore City police, in this instance, was a model—was a model of restraint, control and respect to the students. Nobody got run over, nobody got hurt, and that’s just the way that the Baltimore City Police Department is doing business moving forward,” he said.
Baltimore Fishbowl has reached out to organizers for additional comment.
They’ve set up a GoFundMe—originally to raise funds to support sit-in participants with basic toiletries and other necessities, but now to help cover bail money and any legal fees for the arrestees.
Hours after the arrests, demonstrators gathered again around 8:30 a.m. this morning to denounce the raid, as chronicled by the Baltimore Beat‘s Brandon Soderberg and the Johns Hopkins News-Letter. At the press conference, one student said “the Hopkins administration has explicitly demonstrated that their priority is not the safety of students and community members” through its contracts with ICE, pursuit of an armed police force and from raiding the sit-in.
Press conference from the JHU Sit-In pic.twitter.com/qWDddY063y
— brandon soderberg, journalism abolitionist (@notrivia) May 8, 2019
“This rally, this protest and this movement will continue with or without Johns Hopkins’ support,” junior Karter James Burnett assured.
Supporters of the sit-in and the arrestees are gathering tonight outside Central Booking at 7 p.m., an event doubling as the 301st weekly “West Wednesday” demonstration.
Can we count on you to support #TheHopkinsSeven , the students of Hopkins, residents of Baltimore and Tawanda Jones tonight at 7 at Central Booking? They are fighting to transform the world into our ancestors’ wildest dreams! https://t.co/Ow2nRPfG7r
— JHU Sit-in Day 35 #NoHopkinsPolice (@TheGarlandSitIn) May 8, 2019