Students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, have entered their 21st day of a sit-in occupation of their campus administration building to protest the university’s plans for an armed police force on campus, as well as Johns Hopkins’s contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Students at Johns Hopkins are demanding the cancellation of contracts with ICE and a pledge to donate all money received from ICE to Baltimore’s immigration defense fund. They’re also demanding voluntary recognition for all workers wishing to unionize, and a student and faculty representative spot on the university’s board of trustees.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, as we turn now to another student protest.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, we turn now to a protest over immigration by students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which has entered the [21st] day—the students have been sitting in for 20 days in protesting the university’s plans for an armed police force on campus, as well as Johns Hopkins’s contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
PROTESTERS: JHU, shame on you! JHU, shame on you! JHU, shame on you! JHU, shame on you!
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Hopkins students are demanding the cancellation of contracts with ICE and a pledge to donate all money received from ICE to Baltimore’s immigration defense fund. They’re also demanding voluntary recognition for all workers wishing to unionize, and a student and faculty representative spot on the university’s board of trustees.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! invited Johns Hopkins to join us on our show, but the university declined our request.
We are going, though, to Baltimore, Maryland, where we’re joined by two guests. Mariam Banahi is a Johns Hopkins graduate student participating in the sit-in. She’s a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology, writing a dissertation on asylum seekers in Germany. And Chris Bilal is a member of Students Against Private Police and also a member of the Washington Hill Community Association, who’s participating in the Johns Hopkins sit-in.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mariam, let’s begin with your protest around Johns Hopkins’ relationship with ICE. What is it?
MARIAM BANAHI: So, we’re very interested in how Hopkins presents itself as an ethical university and concerned with health and safety at home, but also its contracts with ICE. So, since 2008, Hopkins has profited and made about $7 million from its contracts with ICE. Currently there’s about $1.7 million in contracts that are ongoing. And these are which—the administration puts these in terms that it’s supportive of medical care and things like that, rather than actually supporting the detaining of asylum seekers. However, we see that as a kind of abstraction of the violence being enacted, because they support the actual structures that facilitate the workings of ICE. So, these contracts are set to expire this year, so we would like the university to end its contracts with ICE and donate the proceeds to something like the immigrant defense fund.
AMY GOODMAN: Which is what?
MARIAM BANAHI: It provides support for immigrants, asylum seekers in court cases, but also other kinds of immigrant justice efforts that can be decided upon later.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, another issue has been the university’s attempt to begin to have an armed police force. Could you talk about that, as well?
MARIAM BANAHI: Yeah, I think Bilal can speak to that, as well.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Bilal, yes?
CHRIS BILAL: Yeah. Legislation just passed. Thank you for having me. Yeah, very dangerous legislation has just passed in Baltimore, granting this university, which is a repeat offender in terms of crimes against Baltimore city residents, has—they now have a police power. And so, again, 75% of the students at Johns Hopkins University said they did not want the police force. A bunch of community associations, primarily across Baltimore city, also said that they did not want this force.
There was a letter written by 100 faculty members of the administration who also said that, you know, they wanted to disarm, de-escalate and kind of defund this machine that was going to happen, and really calling for other solutions and investment and things like mediation, Safe Streets, ROCA, and community-driven alternatives to policing, because as a public health institution, Johns Hopkins University knows better and knows that more policing does not equate with less crime, but that more policing actually causes gentrification, it causes more anxiety and public health concerns around communities, causes the extraction of wealth from communities and also normalizes state-sanctioned violence and terror against black and brown bodies across America.
So, yeah, a lot of the students are kind of challenging and demonstrating against this investment in the mass incarceration system and the school-to-prison pipeline, and are demanding equity in terms of Hopkins reinvesting that money, after divesting, into community-driven alternatives that actually support the sustainability and wellness of people in Baltimore city.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mariam, I wanted to ask you about the sit-in and how long it’s lasted now—20 days—and what the administration’s response has been. But I wanted to first play a clip that, earlier this month, some of your protesters confronted the university’s president, Ron Daniels, and peppered him with questions, and he refused to answer any of their questions. Let’s go to a clip from that exchange.
PROTESTER: So, I mean, we just want to meet—
RONALD DANIELS: So, as I said to you, I have no intention of scheduling anything with you until you clear out of the—clear out of the building. And then you can get what any other student group is always available to, which is schedule a meeting if you want to talk about things you’re concerned with.
PROTESTER: Yes, so, we’ve been trying to discuss—
RONALD DANIELS: Thanks, guys.
PROTESTER: We’ve been trying to discuss the private police for over a year.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was the president being confronted by one of the students, one of your fellow protesters. Mariam, what has been the response of the university to this long sit-in now?
MARIAM BANAHI: Yeah, so, we’re actually going into—today is Day 21 of the sit-in. So, it’s been going for three weeks now. We’ll continue it, and we’ll continue to escalate.
The university response has actually been quite disappointing. We actually have—it’s basically a nonresponse. As you saw, President Daniels, the provost, Provost Kumar, refuses to speak with us. And they also, since the beginning, have refused to offer us anything in writing from our conversations and the like. The only responses that we receive for them are coordinated drop-offs of basically threats, written statements, any time that there is a supposed violation that they deem as a violation. So, I think they’re creating a paper trail in order to pursue disciplinary actions against students as soon as it’s over for them. So it’s quite alarming that there are these methods being used to intimidate protesters, intimidate students, as well as we’ve heard reports that the Dean’s Office has been calling faculty members, especially faculty members who are in more precarious positions, and threatening them, to discourage them from supporting the sit-in, from—anyone who’s stepping in the space is also being pursued and surveilled in these ways, which is extremely alarming and which actually gives credibility to our concerns about what Hopkins would do with its own private, armed police force on campus and beyond and in the community.
Another thing to mention is that the faculty supports the sit-in. There’s a unanimous faculty assembly resolution. So, the community is also supportive of the sit-in. And the support is growing. Surely, it’s growing. And we had a great number of supporters coming in this weekend. We have a whole slew of events this week and into the weekend that are already being advertised. Pastor Heber Brown III of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church has expressed his support, and came and visited us on Sunday with members of his congregation, and will do that again next Sunday at 4 p.m. So, all are welcome.
CHRIS BILAL: Yeah, I was going to—I wanted to add to that, is that I was one of the people who was asking the questions to President Daniels. And as a community member, I think that the administration’s posture of silence towards communities is really bad. And I know folks who were involved in kind of like similar movements in the past will understand, when ACT UP said that silence equals death.
So, what was interesting is his answers to a lot of questions. The police force is billed as something that will generate safety for the people and residents of Baltimore and the students of Johns Hopkins University. But the more that I speak to students, especially women on campus, there is a big trend of women saying that they will feel safe when sexual assault is investigated on campus, that safety looks like investigating frat houses that have committed sexual crimes against folks on campus. I’ve also learned that one out of three undergrads also face sexual assault. And there is this weird case at Hopkins where 18 cases of sexual assault were like kind of deleted in kind of like this weird computer glitch. So when people talk about safety, that’s actually a lie, because Hopkins has been unable to protect its own students and make its own students feel safe. So, there’s no way that they’re going to be able to make people like me safe without profiling me.
And what’s also really scary—I asked President Daniels about mediation, because, basically, Hopkins has a long history of experimenting on black and brown people in Baltimore. It has a huge history of not paying taxes in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins, as a person, was actually a liquor distributor who, like, poisoned people. And also, his family, like, owned tobacco farms. And so they have a long history of poisoning the people of Baltimore, and also not, like, listening to people of Baltimore. So, this is a situation where students were demanding a mediation. You know, like the Faculty Senate kind of proposed a neutral, non-Hopkins-affiliated, mutually agreed-upon mediator, and which the folks could talk to administration officials, like Dean Smita and Kevin and Ron Daniels, who have sat in spaces and have heard these students talk about their concerns about safety, talk about their concerns about the accountability board, talk about their concerns around the boundaries, talked about how they want President Ron Daniels to resign.
And if Ron Daniels doesn’t want to resign, I believe that he should mediate with students or negotiate with students or—again, there was a part on the video where he said, “Are you going to come to dinner?” And I think we would like to come to dinner. I think that we would actually like to see Ron Daniels come to the sit-in and have dinner with students and community members and the coalition of interfaith folks who are interested in this, to come through, or we can have dinner at President Daniels’ house, because the last time that he invited the BSU, the Black Student Union, to his house around concerns around this, he actually kicked them out and said that they were ungrateful. So, we’re also demanding that he speak with the BSU, that he speak with people from the black and brown communities, who have not been consulted, and that they also continue those meetings that they were having, these public meetings around the police force. They canceled those meetings and refused to talk to people. So, this strategy of silence is really harmful.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bilal, I wanted to interrupt you, because we only have a few more minutes, but I wanted to ask you—one of the demands of the sit-in is justice for Tyrone West. And I want to turn to West’s sister—
CHRIS BILAL: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —Tawanda Jones, speaking to WMAR-2 News.
TAWANDA JONES: To know that this can happen, these are not isolated incidents by far. It’s systemically happening. It’s happening all over the world. … Accountability looks like those officers involved in my brother’s brutal execution held accountable.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: For those who don’t know, who was Tyrone West?
CHRIS BILAL: Tyrone West was a Baltimorean who was the sister of Tawanda—
MARIAM BANAHI: Brother, brother.
CHRIS BILAL: Sorry, the brother of Tawanda. And he was actually murdered by police officers from Morgan State University, another university in Baltimore city, which has a police force that Hopkins is modeling their police force off of. And so, Sister West has been out here for—and next week will be her 300th week outside demanding justice for Tyrone West.
You know, the state actually didn’t, like, release a lot of information on the case. There are a lot of discrepancies in the coroner’s report. There are two different autopsies: one that kind of basically says that he was murdered in a case of state-sanctioned terror against him, and then, of course, the state’s narrative which says that, you know, he killed himself—which happens all too often.
So, Tawanda West has been out there every Wednesday for 299 weeks demanding justice and accountability for her brother. And, you know, this is really sad, because we were just watching the news from Yale, how a police officer from Yale also just shot Stephanie and Paul. So we’re asking for justice for Tyrone West and justice for Stephanie and Paul. And we also agree with their demands to disarm the YPD department and disarm Johns Hopkins University.
MARIAM BANAHI: And this also ties back to the case at Barnard recently with Alexander McNab being stopped by campus police coming in. He’s a Columbia student going onto Barnard’s campus, which is normal, business as usual. I’m a Barnard alumna, so I was extremely disturbed by seeing this. And he was accosted and pinned to the counter once he entered the library. And this has been repetitive. However, President Beilock of Barnard has had a much, I guess, better response to what has happened than President Daniels has at Hopkins. She’s been calling for change, and she recognizes the pernicious racialized atmosphere and the racial profiling that takes place on campuses. So, I think Ron Daniels needs to take a look at this.
AMY GOODMAN: Mariam Banahi, we want to thank you for being with us, Johns Hopkins graduate student—
MARIAM BANAHI: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: —in anthropology, and Chris Bilal, member of Students Against Private Police and also a member of the Washington Hill Community Association, both participating in the sit-in, now in its 21st day, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
When we come back in 30 seconds, we continue on what’s happening in Baltimore and around this country. We’ll be speaking with D. Watkins, author of We Speak for Ourselves: A Word from Forgotten Black America. Stay with us.