This story has been updated to say why protesters were not quoted.

A large group of student protesters who oppose plans to create an armed, private Johns Hopkins University police force disrupted a public meeting scheduled for Thursday evening by occupying a campus auditorium stage and chanting, “No justice, No peace! No Hopkins police!”

The action comes one month after University Vice President for Public Safety Branville Bard Jr. announced that the Baltimore research institution would proceed with plans to develop and implement the force. Those plans had been paused for more than two years due to a wave of early opposition.

“Just so you know, they’re shutting down the event,” a member of the Shriver Hall auditorium staff announced to attendees seated in the event space’s red velvet seats.

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Hopkins later restarted the town hall event online. It lasted about 45 minutes and university officials answered roughly 15 questions.

The meeting was held in part so the school could present a draft of its operating agreement with the Baltimore Police Department to the public. The document details how city law enforcement officers will work with school police officers to respond to crimes that occur on campus once the new force is implemented.

University spokesperson Megan Christin said the school fulfilled that requirement by presenting the agreement via livestream and in person, even though attendees could not see or hear the presentation in the raucous auditorium.

“At Johns Hopkins, we strongly value free expression and fully support the right to protest,” Christin said. “We also believe we must be able to engage civilly across our differences and have difficult conversations about the challenging issues we face together as a community, such as public safety.

A Banner reporter approached numerous protesters and sought to interview them about the university’s plans to create a police force, but they all declined to comment.

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When the protesters first arrived, they filled the marble steps leading to the front door of the stately hall. They sat quietly, holding signs with messages like, “How long before the first kill?” and “I tell you I’m scared, and you hire who I’m scared of.”

Student protestors disrupted the meeting for Hopkins public meeting to solicit community feedback on its plans to establish a private police force. (Kaitlin Newman/for The Baltimore Banner)

Once they entered the auditorium, some students laid down in the carpeted aisles leading to the stage. Others sat on the stage, a few feet away from Bard and other university officials, who were on hand to answer community members’ questions.

But once a voice came over the loudspeaker, attempting to begin the meeting, the students started stomping and chanting and didn’t stop until those officials had exited the stage.

Many protesters filed out of the auditorium around 6:40 p.m., 40 minutes after the meeting was scheduled to begin.

Christin said individuals who “wish to participate in a constructive dialog” will have more chances to share their comments and questions at town halls scheduled for next week. It was unclear, however, how the university might respond if protesters seek to disrupt those events.

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Jessica Calefati is an education enterprise reporter exploring how Johns Hopkins University is shaping Baltimore’s future.

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