Community members against Johns Hopkins police force find solidarity, attempt to keep movement alive at protest

One by one, about 25 people took turns Monday evening placing flowers and posters against the brick wall of the Johns Hopkins University Public Safety Department building in Remington.

They gathered to protest the university’s establishment of a private, armed police department, to honor those killed by police and to implore the university to change course.

Johns Hopkins’ push to get its own police force has sparked significant controversy and community pushback in recent years. People have expressed fears ranging from racial profiling by those police to abuse of power in surrounding neighborhoods.

In 2019, Hopkins students and others staged a monthlong sit-in at Hopkins’ Garland Hall over the issue; the demonstration ended May 8 with seven arrests. Opponents legal action or disrupted Hopkins town halls on the subject.

Some protesters at Monday evening’s event said they’ve been feeling that the creation of the police force is inevitable, especially since the university signed a memorandum of understanding, a document that outlines jurisdictional duties, with the Baltimore Police Department.

However, attendees also said that, despite a smaller crowd than at past events, the movement would continue.

After the group walked to Garland Hall, dwindling to 16 people, Hopkins medical student Rachel Strodel shared a moment she witnessed earlier on York Road, when two crows chased a hawk.

“As we fight to maintain that hope, we don’t do it alone,” Strodel said. “We are what keeps us safe.”

Hopkins spokesperson Megan Christin said the university supports peaceful protest and “a culture of free expression.”

“The JHPD is a fully recognized criminal justice agency in the state of Maryland,” Christin said in a statement. “Now in the implementation phase, we are developing JHPD policies and procedures through a consultative, comprehensive, and reform-minded process, in line with the Community Safety and Strengthening Act and the (memorandum). We also are establishing processes to recruit and train officers in accordance with our local hiring goals and requirements and developing plans for JHPD services.

“Throughout this period, we will continue to seek community feedback, as well as oversight and guidance from the Johns Hopkins University Police Accountability Board,” she said.

Joan Floyd and Donald Gresham, two of three plaintiffs appealing a lawsuit to nullify the memorandum, attended Monday’s event. They took turns speaking against the university police department and expressing gratitude to the Hopkins students who are moving the protests forward years after the sit-in.

Floyd pointed out that the sidewalk where Monday’s event began, one block from R. House food hall, would be subject to the JHPD’s jurisdiction.

Gresham said Hopkins students attend the school for an education, but a university police force would teach them about racism at “a whole other level.”

“We know the private police is never going to end well,” Gresham said.

Heidi Nicholls, a postdoctoral Hopkins student and member of the Dissenters Group, a student activism organization, said police are influenced by the U.S. military in practice and in arms. She said a police force is “antithetical” to public health.

On behalf of the Dissenters Group, she called on Hopkins to cancel plans for its own police and sever all ties with the Baltimore Police Department.

Dr. Zackary Berger, a Hopkins associate professor on internal medicine, said his patients live in Baltimore and those who are Black or undocumented would be “most likely to be profiled by JHPD.”

“I’m here for them,” Berger said. “We need to keep being out here telling this truth.”