Submitted to the AFRO by Darriel Harris
Hopkins is arguably the most power organization in the state of Maryland. It employs more people than any other private or public institution in the state. It has amassed some of the most intelligent people in the world to work on issues ranging from medicine, to social sciences, to engineering and at all the intersections between and across the three. Recently, the School of Public Health received $300 million from Michael Bloomberg to address domestic health issues. If that wasn’t enough, Michael Bloomberg later gave Hopkins $1.8 billion to be used for financial aid alone. Suffice to say, Hopkins is a powerful entity, shaping current and future generations through innovation, an ability to attract generous donors, and a bevy of top academic rankings that continue to lure the world’s greatest minds.
Still, Hopkins has a problem and all of its power, wealth, and status cannot provide a quick fix, or at least it hasn’t. Hopkins is located in Baltimore City, a municipality recently dubbed the unenviable title as “the nation’s most dangerous.” Hopkins students and faculty have been told that as a result of the negative attention surrounding such titles, enrollment is down. Surely, it is understandable that parents may not want to send their 18-year old darlings to a city with more murders per capita than Chicago, New Orleans, or any other big city in America. And so one can predictably guess how the state’s arguably most powerful institution responds; by seeking additional power.
This is where all the intellectual capital of Hopkins falls flat and its primal instincts flare. Despite the institution’s ability to document cultural phenomena, write algorithms to quantify the movement of people, light and sound, birth businesses, and solve intractable medical dilemmas, it cannot help but be afraid, and be driven by that fear. It cannot prevent the caveman instinct of thinking power is the ultimate answer to every quandary, the quick fix to any lingering inconvenience. The institution’s intellect never stops to ask, “Is gaining more power the only option for the already powerful?” Or, “If the powerful need more power to survive, what becomes of those with much less power?”
As a Hopkins public health doctoral student, I’ve grown increasingly disappointed with my university’s lack of imagination when it comes to safety. Their insistence on a private police force, an idea that poses as many dangers as it claims to deter, belies academic scrutiny in favor of the traditional divisive and shallow tropes that continue to plague our nation. Hopkins wants a police force in a location where police abuses are extensive and well documented. After having a full year to consider alternate solutions in the face of substantial internal and community opposition, the university has continued headstrong asserting its need for additional power. And to be clear, the power the university seeks is not the power to keep safe, but the power to kill.
Lethal force is the heart of the issue. Safety can be accomplished through a number of means; improved lighting, increased patrol and security guards, free ride shares and free parking, are just a few relatively inexpensive tactics. However, Hopkins’ position is that without control of a group that is armed and licensed to use lethal force it can never be safe, that it cannot fulfill its mission. This is precisely the logic that has made our city unsafe; it’s rampant amongst the city’s perpetrators of violence. It is a logic that suggests the capacity to kill is more impactful than scholarly pursuits and creative ingenuity; that the ability to excel ultimately rests on a willingness to do great harm; and that academic solutions are far less effective then brute strength. Hopkins’ current quest for a private armed police force betrays its city, her citizens, and itself. America’s first research University has bowed to fear and thereby bowed to solutions that ignore research and knowledge in a favor of solutions that are irrational, expensive, and intentionally deadly.
Darriel Harris is a fourth year Hopkins PhD student, pastor, Baltimore resident and Baltimore farmer.