John Hopkins University Occupation Ends with Heavy Police Presence and Seven Arrests

By Brandon Soderberg

Republished with permission from the Baltimore Beat

The sit-in and occupation of Johns Hopkins University’s Garland Hall ended early this morning when around 100 Baltimore Police Officers were called to the administrative building where students have been since April 3. Police department and the fire department personnel issued a series of dispersal orders and JHU administration told the students that if they exited the building they would not face sanctions for violating the JHU code of student conduct.

Finally, police and fire broke through the building’s glass doors, cut the chains on the doors (organizers have been chaining the doors since May 1), entered, and made five arrests.

Hopkins’ reasons for entering the building this morning was the same reason Hopkins has cited as its need for its own armed, police force (one of the issues that sit-in was protesting): safety.

Safety is word that students and city residents organizing against the private police force have focused on for more than a year now, noting the shifts in justifications for the establishment of the police force as they pertain to safety and crime prevention and explaining that their concern is also safety—they just don’t think armed police make them safe and do not believe that a university working with Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement (ICE) should be an arbiter of safety.

“An increase of police does not increase safety,” student Mira Wattal said more than a year ago before a protest of the private police force back in March 2018.

That sentiment has not changed.

“The administration has claimed that they are concerned for the safety of the students involved in the JHU Garland occupation. We are disturbed by the university’s violent response toward its own students and the residents in Baltimore in the name of ‘safety,’” a statement from the sit-in organizers reads in part. “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.”

Last night, a few hours before the raid, a group of four people approached Garland Hall with bolt cutters and when some of the sit-in organizers briefly walked outside Garland Hall, the group pushed inside and a fight broke out. The sit-in was ultimately able to get the group out of the building. Sit-in organizers noted that Hopkins security did not assist the sit-in when the group approached or got in the building and that the sit-in took care of its own, further evidence of what the community can do for itself and the limits of current security (let alone police with guns).

A statement from JHU released soon after the arrests reads in part, “The university’s request for assistance was based on grave concerns about the unsafe circumstances in and around Garland Hall and followed multiple offers of amnesty from university officials and warnings from the police if the protesters left the building.”

As police broke into the building a little before 6 a.m., they walked under a large banner which read, “Chinga El Fascismo” (“Fuck the Fascist”) and the students inside delivered the Assata Shakur chant: “Love is contraband in Hell because love is an acid that eats away bars. But you, me, and tomorrow hold hands and make vows that struggle will multiply. The hacksaw has two blades. The shotgun has two barrels. We are pregnant with freedom. We are a conspiracy.”

Following the arrests, organizers approached the police vans containing the five arrestees and told police that one of the arrestees was placed in a van with male-identifying arrestees though they were female-identifying. One officer argued and told the student their friend was a “he” which further angered the students and proved their point. In 2016, the Department Of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department highlighted numerous examples of transphobia within the department including misgendering and mocking trans Baltimoreans.

Jamie Grace Alexander, an artist and trans right advocate continued telling the police that they had put a woman in the men’s police van. BPD’s Sergeant Chris Warren told the organizers to move out of the way and two organizers, Agatha Gilman and Mariam Banahi, slowly inched away and then tried to get around Sgt. Warren.

“Stop,” Warren told Gilman. “Don’t ruin your life and get locked up. Just stop.”

“Then don’t ruin my life,” Gilman told Warren.

Then Gilman and Banahi laid down in front of the police vans. Both were arrested. Eventually, the arrestee was placed into the female-identifying van.

“It took two CIS women getting arrested. It took all of these people screaming,” Grace Alexander said at a press conference following the arrests. “It took me and others citing laws that trans people have worked and sat at the tables with Baltimore City police to make up rules to hold themselves accountable to diversity that is necessary, to be able to serve trans communities.”

At the press conference, student Turquoise Baker called the raid, “a haunting premonition of what will happen if Hopkins has a police force.”

Not long after the raid, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison spoke to the media outside City Hall.

“The outcome of no force used, no complaints filed, was that we had appropriate response,” Harrison said.

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Brandon Soderberg is a Baltimore-based writer reporting on guns, drugs, and police corruption. He is the coauthor of I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad. Formerly, he was the editor-in-chief of the Baltimore City Paper. His work has appeared in The Intercept, VICE, The Appeal, and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @notrivia.