By J. K. Schmid, Special to the AFRO
A representative of JHU Communications reached out to the AFRO last week following the publication of “301 West Wednesdays” on May 16 to raise questions and provide additional context for the story.
The AFRO stands by the initial reporting in both fact and substance save one detail: the joining of efforts between Tawanda Jones and the West Wednesday coalition referred to in the original piece occurred May 2, not May 10.
The AFRO thanks JHU for the opportunity to perfect the timeline.
JHU also raised an issue with the timing of the joining of efforts between the West Wednesday coalition and Students Against Private Police (SAPP) and their affiliates.
JHU wanted it known that the name Tyrone West, Jones’s brother and then eponymous “West” of West Wednesday, had been in the SAPP vernacular as far back as early April.
This is true, the circumstances of West’s death in the custody of Baltimore City and Morgan State University police (the latter of which JHU President Ronald J. Daniels pointed out to the AFRO as a model of university policing) has been held up as a cautionary tale by protestors on and off campus of what could happen when an armed force is introduced into a community.
However, Jones’s first march to the JHU campus, where she was hosted as a guest speaker at Garland Hall occurred May 2. The event was live streamed and framed by SAPP as part of a larger national and networked campus protest against police practices.
This AFRO reporter receives regular updates on when and where the next West Wednesday will be held. And the a.m. raid by police Wednesday, May 8, nevertheless comes at a time that guarantees there will not be a repeat occurrence to that magnitude.
JHU also raised an issue with the term “force” to describe how the seven protestors were arrested and the sit-in was permanently dispersed.
When the AFRO asked for a better word to describe the entry into a building with bolt cutters by armed police, the subsequent restraining of protestors with plastic handcuffs, and the fraught exchanges between police and protestors over the misgendering of a detainee, the university declined to provide one.
Another issue that was raised of the AFRO’s reporting was the nature of Garland Hall.
JHU admits that Garland is the chief administrative building on campus, but also provides critical student services.
Over the course of the sit-in, Garland was hosting final exams and routinely services students with accessibility needs, holds paychecks for student employees of JHU who do not have direct deposit, and provides services around financial aid.
President Daniels’ office is in Garland Hall.
The AFRO asked, in all seriousness, if there was a better building for the protesting students to occupy, there was no suggestion provided.
JHU maintains that they were, in principle at least, in support of the protest.
“The university has gone to extraordinary lengths to accommodate the protest in Garland Hall, since it started more than a month ago, and has attempted to engage with students to find a resolution following forcible occupation of the building last week,” JHU reported in a May 8 press release. “We are unshakeable in our support of freedom of expression, which lies at the core of academic life. We had hoped to find a constructive means to resolve this increasingly dangerous situation, and we are disappointed that the decisions of the protesters necessitated a law enforcement response. We remain open to dialogue and will continue to support our students as we find ways to move forward, together.”
What was forcible about the students actions, and what was not forcible about campus and police action is not explained in the remainder of the release.
JHU offers an explanation that the change in response,that is, strategy and tactics, was necessitated by the obscuring of security cameras and violation of city and campus fire code the chaining of exterior doors).
JHU pushes back in the idea that Jones was threatened when her associates contacted JHU.
“The university has reached out informally (via phone call) to a representative of the “West Wednesday” protest organizers, and to others, in order to convey the same health, safety, and fire code limitations regarding university buildings that have been communicated regularly to participants in the Garland Hall sit-in and posted publicly on our website,” JHU said in a separate release.
This reporter’s position is that threats remain in the eye of the beholder, even if they do not fall into the domain of legal redress.
JHU summarized its position thusly:
“The university is making every effort to accommodate protest and free expression on campus, but we can only do so with some degree of cooperation from protesters and other participants. We are concerned that student protesters may not be fully communicating to other participants the seriousness of our safety concerns. In particular, Garland Hall – and its open lobby, stairs, and balcony – are not designed for large numbers of people. We are asking for protest gatherings to remain outdoors, and we are reminding protesters and others that entering the building when it is closed (6 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and during the weekend) is a violation of the university conduct code and is trespassing.”
In a rather high-profile case of JHU protest that meets the above criteria, a May 1986 shantytown erected by JHU students in objection to JHU’s investment in the apartheid regime of South Africa was attacked with eggs and cinder blocks, before finally being firebombed by a JHU student, and who was arrested and placed on probation.