Remembering the Garland Hall Sit-In

Four years ago, a group of students and community activists took over Johns Hopkins University’s Garland Hall in protest of the school’s contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the formation of JHU’s own private police force

They argued that the additional police not only wouldn’t make the university any safer, but could actually increase the danger for students and community members.

During their occupation, which lasted a month, activists held film screenings, teach-ins, wellness activities, and more. It ended when first responders cut chains that had been fastened to the doors, and police made seven arrests.

Johns Hopkins temporarily suspended the plan to implement the police force in June of 2020 as people took to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin. However, after the furor died down, Hopkins returned to the plan. According to a report published May 5 by Mother Jones, while the university did cancel ICE contracts, they have picked up new contracts with Customs and Border Protection

On May 8, a small group of activists and students convened in front of the JHU Public Safety Department building to remember the occupation four years ago and to resolve not to give up their fight.

“Take the time to remember what our comrades have done before us,” Noah Nelson told the crowd of about 20 people. “Let’s really embrace the fact that their motivations, their movement, their organizing, is in each and every one of us, and it continues to be.” 

The Baltimore Police Department’s District Action Team

On May 2, Baltimore Magazine published a story critical of the Baltimore Police Department’s District Action Teams (DAT)—specialized plainclothes units intended to fight crime in the city. The story was written by Baltimore Beat co-founder Brandon Soderberg. 

On May 11, a 17-year-old in Baltimore was shot by a member of one of those teams. 

“DAT officers do not answer calls or investigate homicides, but instead engage in proactive policing in neighborhoods they deem ‘high crime’ areas,” Soderberg wrote.

“Defense attorneys argue, however, that DAT officers circumvent Fourth Amendment protections and manufacture probable cause through a vast set of vague descriptors: ‘bulges’ in clothing or backpacks, ‘furtive gestures,’ nervousness including a  ‘visible carotid artery,’ clothing out of season, and running from police.”  

The teen was shot in Shipley Hill, which is in Southwest Baltimore.

“Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Richard Worley said an officer in the neighborhood approached the teen around 1:25 p.m. because he was ‘displaying characteristics of an armed person’ — a phrase that a police spokesperson later declined to explain or elaborate on,” the Baltimore Sun reported.

Baltimore doesn’t have a great track record with specialized units. The city has paid millions to victims of the Gun Trace Task Force, a corrupt specialized police unit found guilty of crimes that include extortion, robbery, and overtime fraud. So much money has been paid out that Baltimore City Comptroller Bill Henry launched a tracker to detail the financial toll the corrupt officers have taken on the city’s bottom line.

The DAT was established in 2017, shortly after the GTTF was disbanded. Soderberg’s story reveals that many past or current DAT members were on former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s do-not-call list. 

At an early April panel held at the University of Baltimore called “Policing in the Aftermath of the Gun Trace Task Force,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison defended the use of specialized units, arguing that they are closely supervised and that problems can be trained away. 

“There is great value in it when the persons are selected appropriately,” he said. “The infrastructure and systems of accountability are built to inform us when they step out of bounds and inform us of how to respond when it’s brought to our attention. Nothing will ever be perfect, and perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of good.”

However, Soderberg’s story said that these units are often used over and over — simply rebranded when problems arise.

“As we’ve seen across this country with the disbanding of these ‘anti-crime units,’ as soon as they get negative press… they’re often rebranded, repackaged, and then sold back to the public under a different name and still engaging in the same egregious practices,” Joseph Richardson, a professor of African-American studies and anthropology at the University of Maryland College Park, told Soderberg. “That’s part of the public narrative that they sell: ‘We got rid of that.’” 

City Gives Relief to Homeowners 

On May 9, Mayor Brandon Scott announced that homeowners with their homes on the city’s tax sale list will be removed if their homes are valued up to $250,000. Following the Board of Estimates’ approval at their May 10 meeting, this is one of many steps Scott’s administration is taking in an attempt to keep more Baltimoreans in their homes. 

According to a press release issued by the Mayor’s office, a Tax Sale Work Group has also been created. The group is a coalition of tax sale experts, housing advocates, and legal aid professionals. The group will focus on reforming the tax sale process, finding solutions to make the process more equitable, and working with state legislators to grant Baltimore City more local authority over the process, advising more on technological updates that would allow payment plans for homeowners who have fallen behind on their taxes. 

In April, The Baltimore Banner reported that there’s been an uptick in Black residents leaving Baltimore City. 

In March of last year, WYPR reported that the Mayor’s office announced $100 million of federal funding that will be used to address blight in Baltimore communities. It is the largest-ever investment of its kind and part of a strategy to boost Black homeownership.