This past week President Daniels released an announcement that Johns Hopkins was considering establishing a private police force. In the aftermath of this revelation, students have raised an outcry about the dangers associated with such a force. Their most resounding concern is that it would endanger people of color, both students and locals. President Daniels, who anticipated such an outcry, wrote that the University’s private police department would “uphold in every way the core values of our institution, including a deep respect for freedom of expression, a meaningful connection to our neighbors, an unwavering commitment to equity and inclusion, and a promise of transparency and accountability.” Nevertheless, the University has not demonstrated exactly how it will achieve this vision. And by turning to collaborators that have made a mockery of these values—the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) and private police departments across the United States— , for assistance, the University leaves little in the way of hope that it will fulfill its promises. Examining the discriminatory practices of the institutions with which Johns Hopkins has worked in the gestation of these plans only raises more troubling concerns about the imminent threats to people of color at this school.
According to President Daniels, in his letter to the University, “The department would be developed and implemented through a detailed agreement with BPD regarding the size, scope, training, and capabilities of a university police department in the same geographic area where we have patrols around our university and medical campuses.” The Baltimore Police is the last group qualified to help with the development of another police force. A 165 page report from the Justice Department released in 2016 concluded that the BPD “are inadequately trained, supervised, and disciplined.” Furthermore, the BPD is one of the most infamously racist police departments in America. The case of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died of a spinal injury in police custody made national news and sparked protests across the country. And the Freddie Gray case only scratches the surface of the department’s problems with race. Additionally the department has come under fire for corruption, including the confiscation and resale of guns into Baltimore communities. It is impossible for Daniels to fulfill his promises to students when the school is dependent on the BPD for the development and continuation of its force.
Private police departments at other universities have been another major source of information and support for Hopkins officials as they consider the development of a private police force. According to Daniels, “This past fall, representatives from Johns Hopkins visited peer institutions in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles and sought advice from outside experts to study the experiences of university police departments.” But what possible insight could the University seek to gain from institutions that are— like the BPD— embattled in accusations of racism and brutality? Private police departments at universities in all three of the cities that Daniels named, have already failed their student populations and local communities.
The University of Los Angeles Police Department (UCLAPD) faced accusations of racism and brutality when two of its officers stopped and physically abused a black man for the crime of not wearing a seatbelt. Not knowing that the man was Judge David S. Cunningham III of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, they “shoved him against his car, handcuffed him, and locked him in the back of a police cruiser.” Judge Cunningham filed a complaint and claim for $10 million against the officers on the basis of racial profiling. Nevertheless, the UCLAPD dismissed the accusation insisting that there was inadequate proof—“We are distressed when anyone feels disrespected by our officers or anyone who represents UCLA.” The UCLAPD was not however distressed enough to punish or fire the officers for their actions. Students should find it of little comfort that Daniels has been turning to such sages for advice on making a force governed by “transparency and accountability.”
The University of Chicago’s Police Department (UCPD) has also faced accusations of racial profiling, which were corroborated in recent years when the UCPD began releasing data about its “contact with community members.” According to the Chicago Reporter, “UCPD officers have stopped and questioned 166 people on foot. All but 11 of them were African-American.” While African Americans compose only fifty-nine percent of the 3.5-mile area that the UCPD is permitted to patrol, they account for ninety-three percent of the “field interviews” conducted by officers. One resident Brandy Parker recollected that when he was fourteen years old, UCPD officers approached him and his friends on a public parkway between two major city parks and told them, “Y’all don’t belong over here.” Parker reported being stopped by cops continually for similar encounters throughout his adolescence in the neighborhood. Furthermore, minorities accounted for approximately eighty-five percent of the people pulled over for traffic violations in the area, but only comprised sixty-four percent of drivers in the patrol area. One community organizer, Jawonda Malone, described an incident in which UCPD officers in a patrol car pulled him and his friend over as they drove. The officers told the two men that they matched a description. According to Malone, “We said, ‘What is the description?’ and he said ‘[the suspects] had on long coats.’ How is an officer in a police vehicle going to tell that we had on long coats?”
Anecdotes such as these are not uncommon from local residents. If these model police departments cannot refrain from racist practices let alone form a “meaningful connection” to predominantly black communities around them, how can Johns Hopkins officials place their trust in their advice? Perhaps if model policing such as this is poisoned with racism and brutality, Johns Hopkins should have nothing to do with it.
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