Rebuilding East Baltimore: “taking too much”, segregating, and policing

For more than 80 years, as the neighborhoods surrounding the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in East Baltimore campus changed from white to majority black, the institution has segregated itself, first with walls and then increasing security and off-duty police, and now a K-9 unit. They fear their neighbors and build greater measures to secure themselves from their neighbors. In the 1950s, after displacement of 1000 families and taking the 59 acres they occupied, the institution built physical walls to keep residents out of their newly constructed housing- their “compound”. Displaced residents would have to walk around this compound to get to their destination, previously accessible.

Not unlike the planned exploitation of land for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the university has taken land and displaced its neighbors in small (one house at a time) and large ways (more than 1000 families at a time), mostly black and low income residents. During the current ceremony to protect the land and water by indigenous peoples and other water protectors at Standing Rock, the emphasis of white colonialism and its greed to take only for itself was emphasized as the way America began and continues:

“The Lakota word for “white man” is Wasi’chu (Wa SHE choo). Wasi’chu means literally, “takes too much.” …[The story goes, at] a time when the Europeans arrived, a starving immigrant showed up in a Lakota camp. Nutrient rich tallow fat from the sacred buffalo was drying on racks in the sun. Without asking, the man seized and consumed all the tallow that he saw hanging there. “He didn’t leave any for anyone else. The Lakota had never observed that behavior before.” So the Lakota word for “white man” describes this takes-too-much behavior and attitude–a manifestation of his thought process–not his skin color. The term Wasi’chu applies to any non-native.

The “takes too much” behavior of the Wasi’chu encapsulates metaphorically what the Standing Rock movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is about. As the indigenous peoples of North America come together and pray–creating an historic movement to prevent Wasi’chu’s latest desecration of nature–they illuminate a profound difference between the everyday holistic consciousness that has guided indigenous peoples since Paleolithic times, and the everyday aggressively anthropocentric (human-centered) consciousness that has led to our contemporary world.” (Contemplative Alliance)

This “takes too much” attitude and practice is alive and well in the contemporary leadership of East Baltimore and Baltimore city’s largest employer: The Johns Hopkins Medical institutions. It’s the basis of how rebuilding of the community has occurred for the past 80 years. Similar to the way the DAPL planned its route through indigenous peoples’ land without consulting with them, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions planned its recent 88-acre Bioscience Park without consultation with the neighbors who would be displaced to make room for the development. After acquiring the land and demolishing buildings through the support of government, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and its proxy East Baltimore Development Inc (EBDI), the shiny new buildings and facilities are slowly being erected- two new biotech buildings, a bioethic institute, a new school, a new hotel, a 7-acre park, luxury and moderate-income ownership housing, and moderate and low-income rental housing.

jhmi-expansion

While the institution expands itself and markets to a different race and class, it ignores the challenges of the historic residents it displaced. The drug dealing, crime, and outcome of decades of abandonment and disenfranchisement were displaced to other neighborhoods. But crime does not stay confined to areas of poverty, crime spreads to areas of resources. And it is spreading into the campuses of Johns Hopkins University and hospital. Instead of digging in and understanding the root cause of the crime-structural inequities- the university again chooses to build greater walls, through increased security. This is reflected in the following excerpt from Johns Hopkins Medicine, Corporate Security, (November 30 2016) in regard patrol strategy, partnership with the Baltimore police department, and security technology:

  • Patrol Strategy

“Our Corporate Security team maintains a robust patrol presence on and in areas immediately adjacent to our campuses. We are continually adjusting our security resources on and around our campuses to best mitigate crime and enhance visibility by increasing our mobile, bike and foot patrols. Over the past year on the East Baltimore campus, Corporate Security has significantly enhanced security coverage with additional protective services officers, who are now posted in the commercial area expansion to the north, with two additional mobile patrols and the assignment of off-duty Baltimore police officers. A new canine program will launch in mid-December. This team of specially trained dogs and their handlers from Corporate Security’s special response unit will patrol parking garages, hospital corridors, the Emergency Departments and other locations throughout the East Baltimore campus to help prevent and defuse volatile confrontations, and to detect explosives. The dogs will also be on call to bolster security at other Johns Hopkins campuses should the need arise. On the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus, Corporate Security has increased patrols on the southeast side adjacent to the residential community where many of our staff members live. Mobile patrols are focused on monitoring staff and community members as they enter and exit the campus.”

  • Partnership with the Baltimore Police Department

“A key partner in our security response is the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). Corporate Security has always had strong relationships with the BPD, including the leadership of the eastern and southeastern districts, where our East Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Bayview campuses are located, and street patrol officers. The BPD and Corporate Security share information and support each other’s work daily, a collaboration that, again, helps in our response as incidents occur. In addition, Johns Hopkins University faculty members are partnering with BPD on the Collaborative for Violence Reduction, a research and practical application initiative informed by the best scientific evidence, by marshalling our academic expertise in public safety, violence prevention and gun control.”

  • Security Technology

“Corporate Security has more than 250 close -circuit television (CCTV) cameras  around  the exterior of the East Baltimore campus. A little over 1,200 cameras in total cover the entire campus (internal and external) of approximately 9.5 million square feet (not including seven garages). The cameras report back to a state-of-the-art communications center. On the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus, Corporate Security has increased our CCTV capabilities to provide video coverage to monitor pedestrian traffic in and out of the adjacent neighborhood and along the public properties that traverse the campus.”

The challenges of East Baltimore are indeed the problems of every one of us who live, work, study, pray, and play in the city of Baltimore. People, and the institutions and systems and structures created by the people, whose value is “taking too much” and “leaving too little” for others, have created the problems we now face in our most disenfranchised and abandoned communities. This value of forging forward while others next door to you are left behind, this rugged individualism is American, white American to be more specific. One can see the jarring result of such individualism in places like East Baltimore where the socioeconomic gap between two geographic neighbors have continued to grow over the years, reflected by the expansion of the institution from one square block to more than seven; and the displacement of historic residents and acquisition of their homes to accommodate these takings. In order to address the root causes we must individually and collectively be willing to identify our role in the cause and our role in the solution. We must acknowledge the structural and individual racism and classism that has built and rebuilt communities of poverty, crime, and drug addiction, diminished life-expectancy, diminished health, diminished housing, education, nutrition, recreation, and transportation. The “taking too much” practice has “left too little” in our communities of color and low income. The resulting crime is a problem of inequity; the greater the inequity the greater the violence.

community-benefit-table

But crime is a problem not only for those behind highly secured spaces like the Johns Hopkins campuses. It is a problem in the same communities that these institutions continue to segregate. And crime is an assault on our freedom and health for those inside these highly secured spaces, and outside. The institution boasts of the number of people it employs and its billion-dollar industry in the state. It publishes regular reports on its community engagement again boasting about its role in being a ‘good’ neighbor, providing economic and social inclusion, etc etc. But what it has not boasted about, in the past or recently, is its perception of the community in which the East Baltimore campus resides and its lack of innovative participation in addressing the decades of disinvestment and exploitation-by itself and the city. It, along with universities nationwide, have attached themselves to the service-learning model of community outreach. This model boasts about the countless hours that students provide to community projects but fails to address the lack of cultural competence, and the colonizing and white supremacist attitudes carried by many of the students who are thrusted upon marginalized communities. These are the same communities that the institution fears, segregates itself from, and demonizes with a police presence.

Race and class segregation has resulted in separate and unequal communities like Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and its neighbors. It has resulted in the increased wealth of the campus and increased poverty of the communities surrounding it through physical expansion of one group and physical removal of another. This continued serial forced displacement of the vulnerable and marginalized communities of low income and color, and its legacy must be addressed to expose the root causes so as to develop effective solutions. Solutions will not come from researchers developing methods unilaterally without advice from those impacted. We must be willing to engage across differences, welcome in discomfort and unfamiliarity of each other, listen to each others stories. Only then can we begin to understand what each other think and why. With these new understanding we can move toward changing our perceptions and heal the wounds of separation and fear and move toward greater understanding and community-informed solutions. Hiding behind guns, walls, cameras, and dogs simply hides the problem and prolongs the trauma and violence of inequity. Many community members fear the institution, this “plantation” presence in their community with so much power to determine whether they will be able to stay in their homes. This is a basic fear for the right to shelter and all that is attached to the human right to housing and health.

Those with power must acknowledge how their power came to be and be humble and wise enough to finally repair the violence enacted by “taking too much”: this has and continues to be a crime against humanity. This requires a recognition that  power enlivened by greed, hatred, and delusion is an abuse of privilege and is oppressive to people everywhere. Those without must challenge the powerful to live into their humanity at the same time living into their own power. Out of this awakening a new value of “taking less and leaving more” must arise and for this to happen, no one can stand aside anymore.

Did Trump wake us up to our “walls” of separation?: Can we stay awake and dismantle them?

In Baltimore ‘water protectors’ rally in solidarity with folks at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protestors demanded that Wells Fargo divest from DAPL and closed down Wells Fargo with a sit-in ending with arrest of 6, on November 25 2016

In Baltimore ‘water protectors’ rally in solidarity with folks at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protestors demanded that Wells Fargo divest from DAPL and closed down Wells Fargo with a sit-in ending with arrest of 6, on November 25 2016

As the election results started coming in on November 8 2016, people woke up. In many ways, if Hillary Clinton had won the US elections, we would have continued sleep walking, accepting crumbs from the table of the growing elites. Many would have continued to believe the rhetoric and remain blinded by some of the social policies we’ve seen changed or come into effect during Obama’s administration. We would have continued to ignore the growing income gap and the cronyism and division inherent in all political parties, the militarism expanding into domestic policing, and the war-mongering that defines American imperialism. But when Trump supporters went to the polls, tired of their decreasing wages and unable to understand why their white skin privilege was not paying off-economically-the rest of us woke up. Now the question is, can we stay awake? Waking up to not just the obvious changes that are forecasted under a Trump administration but waking up to our role in conditioning the rise and fall of a “Trump”.
Here some of you may be taking offense-none intended. What is intended is the awareness of how we all must change in order to assure that Trump or a Clinton-like do not continue in four years. How have we been pulled along with the wave of consumption, looking outside of ourselves to find joy and ease our pain, to shape a market that fuels climate change; even while we protest against it? We move too quick, have no time to cook, and eat out so much that we demand the production of plastic containers, cups, utensils to feed us. I looked in my closet a couple days ago and counted how many to-go containers were there: who needs to buy houseware? In capitalism we feed the machine of production by our demands. As students we demand the newest technology for learning, lots of space to do our research while we denounce our universities for expanding and displacing black and brown folks. I remember as a student wanting more laboratory space even while I was protesting Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions forcing people out their homes to build new buildings. We want to live, work, play and pray in new buildings instead of rehabbed old buildings. We all want the new bling, to keep up with the Brown’s, more shoes than we need, one more bedroom, etc. When we stop, breathe, and notice what we are doing each moment, how we participate in the supply and demand of the market, we begin to wake up to our role in this cycle of desire for more and more. We begin to see how our craving for more things and faster results have contributed to climate change and the gap between the rich and the poor and decide if this is really what we want to do and be. When we are awake we become the masters of our actions instead of being hoodwinked by our craving and attachments. Now this is radical change.
Baltimore’s ‘water protectors’ sign November 25 2016.

Baltimore’s ‘water protectors’ sign November 25 2016.