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Anti-police protests at Johns Hopkins disrupt town hall once again amid virtual meeting

Protestors stormed a Johns Hopkins stage once again during the second town hall meeting on Thursday night denouncing plans for a new armed private police force on campus. Organizers have refused to back down despite the university moving the discussion to a virtual meeting. The final meeting was held on Friday afternoon. The town halls are meant to offer the public a space to discuss the draft memorandum of agreement between the university and the Baltimore Police Department.

The Johns Hopkins police department will have jurisdiction across the campus and will employ 100 workers, including administrative staff, according to the document.

Officials hosted a virtual meeting but offered in-person seating to the public to ask questions. Demonstrators pushed past security guards checking IDs at the entrance and stood in front of the projector which was sharing the livestream during the event chanting “shut it down.”

Officials told those inside the auditorium the meeting was over by about 7:30 p.m. and the protestors moved outside to a courtyard. The virtual meeting continued for roughly another hour while Johns Hopkins staff answered questions submitted by the public.

Branville Bard, vice president of public safety at Johns Hopkins, said during a press conference before the town hall that everyone deserves to feel safe on campus.

Bard noted that there’s been assaults, robberies and even murders inside the campus grounds.

“I have individuals who come here to work, who are afraid to come from the parking garage into the building,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the fear of crime is keeping medical patients away from the hospital or students from enrolling at the university, he said.

“It’s our responsibility to do all within our power to keep that from happening,” he said.

Baltimore City Council will have 30 days to review the MOU and then Police Commissioner Michael Harrision will make the decision whether or not to sign off on it.

If Harrison does sign the MOU, Johns Hopkins will begin the process of creating policies and procedures for the new police department. The university plans to have the police department up and running by next school year.

But protest organizers countered that they would not feel safer with a new police department on campus and questioned whether a virtual meeting is in the spirit of authentic public feedback.

Using a loudspeaker, a protestor who identified themselves only as “Proxy” questioned how a YouTube livestream is the same process as a community meeting in person. The crowd responded that it’s not the same.

“It’s absolutely not and no amount of packets, pizza parties and bottled water is going to change that fact Hopkins’ private police force will make things more dangerous for our community, not safer,” Proxy yelled.

Johns Hopkins undergraduate student Sky Babiboa said the school doesn’t need a privatized police department.

“The campus, honestly, is already safe,” Babiboa said.

By 8 p.m. the protestors had dispersed.

Johns Hopkins officials touted the town hall as a success, without mentioning the protest in an emailed statement.

“Information on the MOU was presented both virtually and in-person at Turner Auditorium, and audience members had the opportunity to ask questions and convey feedback via text, email and JHU’s public safety website.”

Some individuals are looking forward to more security on Johns Hopkins campus.

Ahead of the town hall, East Baltimore resident Tehma Smith-Wilson, CEO of nonprofit organization, The Door, said she doesn’t see the police department as a threat. Smith-Wilson is a Baltimore City native and is raising her family inside city limits.

“I don’t want to feel guilty of having my son exposed to so much crime,” she said. “A lot of crime can bleed onto the campus and their area and being so close to the other communities. I say, why not.”

Bethany Raja is WYPR's City Hall Reporter
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