Karyn Pomerantz, March 25, 2019
The Johns Hopkins University plans to hire its own armed private police force to patrol the campus and residential streets around its properties in Baltimore, MD. The Hopkins medical campus in East Baltimore has expanded into surrounding neighborhoods for years displacing hundreds of people and allowing developers to move in with their expensive real estate. Universities have become large real estate companies with education on the side, gobbling up working class homes and destroying community bonds. Police forces serve the wealthy, protecting property and profit.
Hopkins now wants to protect its properties with police they control who will have little accountability to the public. It has launched a large public relations campaign playing on the fears of crime and violence as well as people’s interest in promoting public safety. They are attending community association meetings, testifying, and most likely calling in favors and paying politicians to succeed. As of this writing (March25), their bill is before the Maryland legislature.
It is not too late to act. Call Speaker of the House Michael Busch at 410-841-3800 and say that:
JHU officers will be able to make arrests, conduct stop & frisks, order residents off their own streets, and take whatever other actions JHU deems necessary to protect its own interests. But its police department will be more secretive and less accountable than city, county and state law enforcement agencies! JHU will be able to keep most information about how their police operate secret, but officers will get exceptional legal protections if they are accused of harming anyone or violating a person’s constitutional rights.
We cannot allow the state to privatize policing! This unprecedented step will start us down a slippery slope with potentially dire consequences for civil rights across the state. If we let JHU do this, any corporation will be able to hire its own gun-toting police force with no duty to protect the public and no accountability.
Call your legislators. Get contact info at http://mgaleg.maryland.gov
Hopkins students, organized as Students Against Private Police (SAPP), faculty, and community residents have rallied to oppose this bill. They give several key reasons:
• Adding private police increases the risk of racial profiling and violence against young black men and boys, immigrants, and poor people, groups already disproportionately arrested, beaten, and killed by police.
• Adding private police gives the illusion of safety to the new, more affluent people moving in, promoting gentrification.
• Armed police on campus can suppress protests and speech during a time of increased repression of anti-racist and anti-Zionist organizing.
• Some 100 faculty members and over 1000 Hopkins students have signed petitions opposing this bill, writing that “black and brown students and Baltimoreans are already disproportionately targeted. Private police on campus are likely to exacerbate racial profiling, with even more dangerous and potentially fatal consequences.”
• Neighborhood association members also oppose private policing because of little accountability and increased chances of harassment.
Meanwhile, many politicians and churches support Hopkins, citing public safety and protection from the “riff raff” as Rep. Elijah Cummings claimed. Hopkins has deep ties to politicians and powerful agencies.
There are alternatives to law enforcement. Public safety can be improved by taking money from policing and funding jobs, community centers, schools, libraries, housing, re-entry services, and the arts. Such resources mitigate the need for people to participate in illegal activities to survive. Some cities and counties have provided mental health counselors instead of police to deal with people having a crisis or experiencing domestic violence. Others train residents to de-escalate violence and provide mental health “first aid.”
Harm reduction programs, such as needle exchange, help reduce deaths from HIV and drug use. Safe injection sites allow people with addictions to use in protected, nurse run environments, avoiding police harassment. Decriminalizing drug use by treating it as a public health issue provides care and decreases incarceration.
In 2018, the American Public Health Association (APHA) passed a resolution calling police violence a public health issue and called for decriminalization of drug possession and use, and other behaviors, and for increased social spending.
As the US government continues its war of terror on people who are poor and marginalized, we need to weaken their police powers to stop our resistance. Building community solidarity and unity among our neighbors, protests against bad policies, and support for oppressed people globally can strengthen our movement against state sponsored violence.
For further info:
Students Against Private Police on Facebook
Truthout. Who do you serve, who do you protect? Chicago:Haymarket Books, 2016.
APHA. Law Enforcement as a Public Health Issue. 2018. Viewed at endpoliceviolence.org