Solidarity with the Johns Hopkins protestors and the Garland Hall Sit-in

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10 May 2019

Dear Jeffrey Aronson and the Johns Hopkins University Board of Trustees,

We are a group of concerned academics who are deeply troubled by the unethical and dismissive response by the Johns Hopkins University administration, led by President Ron Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar, towards faculty, students and community members who have questioned JHU’s decision to introduce armed police to campus, and the university’s contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We are concerned that campus police will have deleterious effects on students and faculty of color, as well as on surrounding communities who have already experienced considerable violence from the Baltimore police. The administration’s recent use of force and coercion against students and community members who attempted to open a serious dialogue around these issues has only deepened our concerns.

The administration claims it is committed to freedom of speech and to respecting diversity, but its actions - especially the police action against protestors and community members earlier this week - belie these claims. Some distinguished faculty at Hopkins have done considerable research on racial profiling by police in Baltimore and by campus police at Yale and other institutions. Given this available expertise, we are concerned that the introduction of such a force would exacerbate the forms of racist, homophobic and sexual violence that are already faced by vulnerable communities on campus and beyond. Additionally, we fear that a private police force would be unaccountable to anyone but the Hopkins administration. Events that occurred at Hopkins in the last few days confirm such fears.

Since April 3rd, a group of Hopkins students and concerned Baltimore residents have been participating in a nonviolent assembly at Garland Hall, the administrative building of the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus. For 36 days, the sit-in participants peacefully articulated the desires of the Hopkins and larger Baltimore community. Their demands have included terminating Hopkins’ ongoing contracts with ICE, donating the profits from these contracts to immigrant defense funds, and immediately canceling plans to introduce private, armed police to campus. Throughout, the participants consistently called upon President Daniels and Provost Kumar to enter discussion. For many weeks their invitations were refused.

On May 5th, President Daniels and Provost Kumar issued a letter to some of the protesters to schedule a meeting for the next morning, giving them less than 14 hours to prepare. The protestors responded with requests that all future meeting offers provide at least 48 hours notice,  and laid out reasonable conditions for broadcasting and archiving the discussions. They also asked for assurance that the protestors who remained in Garland Hall would not have to confront law enforcement.

Instead of considering these requests, the President issued a second letter accusing protesters of refusing negotiation. The letter threatened an immanent, forced removal from Garland Hall citing “student safety” as the cause. The President’s imposition of an unreasonably short turnaround for negotiation and his evasion of student requests suggests the invitation was not made in good faith.

Early the following morning, on May 8th around 12:30 am, a small group of counter-protestors entered Garland Hall and violently assaulted sit-in participants. Johns Hopkins security did nothing to stop them, stating that their charge was to protect university property and the protestors were “on their own.” More alarmingly, a few hours later, at 4:30 a.m, approximately 80 Baltimore City police officers arrived at Garland Hall. The officers set up barriers around the building and assumed positions on all sides. At 5:30 a.m, they entered and arrested five peacefully protesting students and community members. The officers then attempted to (illegally) place a trans woman protester in the van going to the men's jail, until two students lay down before the van, forcing officers to place the trans woman in the proper vehicle. The BPD arrested the two students impeding the police van, bringing the number of arrested protesters to seven.

The President’s decision to involve the police was disproportionate to the methods and purpose of the sit-in, escalated the confrontation, and introduced physical force to a peaceful demonstration. This goes against all principles of democracy and freedom of expression. It manipulates principles of “student safety” in order to crack down on student-led, peaceful democratic action. An additional statement made on May 9th by President Daniels claims the confrontation is over. He neglects to address our concerns about racial profiling and police violence, as well as the administration’s complicity in these problems. We cannot accept the university’s public relations rhetoric that directly contravenes its actions.

We stand in solidarity with the protestors and urge the Board of Trustees and President Daniels to revoke the decision to establish a private police force at JHU, and to terminate university contracts with ICE. We call on the administration and authorities to immediately grant amnesty to all protestors and to make amends for harms done to them. We ask the administration to attend negotiations with protestors on a mutually acceptable date and in the presence of a third-party mediator. Your immediate intervention as Trustees is expected and called for, in privileging morality over profit.