BALTIMORE — Dozens of Baltimore Police officers were at Johns Hopkins University Wednesday morning, where some students who have been protesting the college's decision to create its own police force were arrested following a protracted standoff with school officials.
WMAR-2 News was on the scene, where students held a sit-in at Garland Hall for more than a month. Johns Hopkins University is pushing for a private police force for the Homewood campus, the hospital and the Peabody Conservatory in Mt. Vernon.
— Megan Knight (@KnightWMAR) May 8, 2019
University officials said a request was made by the institution to have Baltimore Police and Baltimore Fire crews assist to reopen Garland Hall. The administrative building, which houses the president's office, has been the grounds for protest and sit-ins since April 3.
Though the students were detained and handcuffed, they will not be criminally prosecuted, the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office said.
"Our office will not prosecute the seven Johns Hopkins students arrested during yesterday's protest," the office's Director of Communications, Melba Saunders, said in a statement. "Today all charges brought against the students will be abated by arrest."
"We will not apologize for our actions and we will not stand down. This rally, this protest, and this movement will continue with or without Johns Hopkins' support," one student said.
On May 1, the situation escalated as students occupied the building and chained themselves to the location. A statement from the school following the arrests said the students had covered security cameras and chain shut exterior doors after "forcing the evacuation of students and staff from Garland Hall."
"The university's request for assistance was based on grave concerns about unsafe circumstances in and around Garland Hall," the statement said.
School leaders including the president Ronald Daniels posted a letter to the protesters, saying that the sit-in is a violation of criminal trespass laws. Protesters were offered amnesty if they agreed to leave Garland Hall. Daniels' letter said he wanted to meet with the students to talk about the issues surrounding the school having its own police force.
Police and firefighters seem to be setting up a perimeter around Garland Hall where students have been staging a sit-in for over a month. Police have asked us to stay back. pic.twitter.com/I3eBtLprYx
— Megan Knight (@KnightWMAR) May 8, 2019
The university said in a letter it wanted to meet with students Tuesday, but they did not show.
The student protesters refute that assessment of events, saying they routinely tried to have Daniels or other university officials meet them, only to be rebuffed as those administrators increased surveillance and security around the demonstration and utilized other inflammatory or confrontational tactics.
"The university administration has surveilled and threatened the Garland Occupation throughout this protest since the JHU sit-in began on April 3rd, despite their claims of concern regarding students’ safety and well being," read a statement signed by 'The JHU Garland Occupation.' "While, on the one hand, the university issued formal notices claiming to be open to peaceful negotiations, university officials has simultaneously been issuing informal threats via word of mouth."
The group says the school called emergency contacts of protesters, saying Daniels offered to meet when he hadn't, received targeted "wellness check" emails, and saw the number of guards and surveillance cameras increase as the occupation went on.
"We are disturbed by the university’s violent response toward its own students and the residents in Baltimore in the name of “safety.” In Baltimore, the term “safety” has also been an especially violent word, used in order to racially profile, criminalize, and brutalize black individuals by the police force," the statement continued. "Given this, students, faculty, staff, and residents of Baltimore have consistently expressed our concerns that an armed private police force will threaten the safety of our community and further the violence against marginalized individuals.
The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill this year, allowing the university create it's own police force. While several Maryland colleges have their own security forces with police powers, those schools are public institutions who are ultimately controlled by state officials. Johns Hopkins would be the first private institution to have its own police force.
Jarron Jackson, the senior director over the school's safety and security at the Homewood campus, said official plans haven't been laid out as for the department's policies and procedures, but it will take community input long before an officer is on the campus.
"We want to continue that hard work and continue that feeling of safety. There are different views on how that works, but that's the reason we're having our conversations on what safety should look like here on the campus and Baltimore as a whole. It's been a conversation that's been going on," he said.