Obama Celebration Turns Ugly After Police Use Force At Johns Hopkins U.

This story was written by Stephanie Delman, The Johns Hopkins News-Letter
Sixteen individuals, including four undergraduates, one graduate student and one professor from Hopkins, were taken into custody early Wednesday morning after Baltimore City Police intervened to break up a peaceful 500-person celebration of the election results at 33rd and St. Paul Streets.

According to witnesses at the scene, Jeffrey Levine, a Hopkins sophomore, was walking home from an election party at around 1 a.m. when he was pushed by police into the lobby of the Bradford apartments, and after confronting the police, he was Tasered.

"I definitely saw him being Tasered or shocked or whatever they did to him. At that point he kind of fell backwards and the police grabbed him away into the paddy wagon," said Galen Druke, a Hopkins freshman who witnessed blue sparks from the stun device.

"He said, 'Don't f--king hurt me,'" Josh Furor, a friend of Levine who was present, said. "I definitely heard a Taser gun. I am 100 percent sure I heard a Taser go off."

Druke was also arrested after saying to police, "My friend was arrested trying to get into his apartment. If it's illegal to try to get into your apartment, then I'm guilty as well, so arrest me."

Druke recounted that a police officer told him he would be spending the night in a cell with rapists.

Four additional Hopkins-affiliated individuals were also arrested.

Professor Aaron Goodfellow and graduate student Bhrigupati Singh, both of the Anthropology Department at Hopkins, were apprehended when returning from an election night party.

"We were standing on the sidewalk, literally watching the crowd. We'd never seen anything like that at Hopkins. We wanted to see what was happening. I was speaking to a couple of students and I turned around and next thing I know there were 20 cops and I was pushed in a van," Singh said.

Goodfellow said he only tried to intervene when he saw Singh being "plucked out of the crowd."

"We were so excited to be a part of something so momentous, especially on the Hopkins campus where these things don't usually happen. It was exuberant, exciting, until [Singh] was grabbed, I tried to intervene and that was it for me - I was cuffed and thrown into the paddy wagon," he said.

The assembled crowd had been nonviolent and largely in a celebratory mood, according to Druke.

"I would say that hostility would be the last word regarding what happened last night until the police were hostile toward us," Druke said.

"There is no reason why anyone should think it was a violent crowd; it was people celebrating democracy," a student who wished to remain anonymous said.

Community liaison Carrie Bennett echoed these sentiments about the initial atmosphere of the gathering.

"By no means was this a riot. This was a happy celebration. Windows weren't smashed and things weren't thrown; it was just a large exuberant group that got out of hand," she said.

Sophomore Harry Laverty was caught posing for a picture near a police officer and was arrested.

Laverty said he had heard several police warnings and was about to head home when he decided to have a picture taken in the midst of the commotion.

"It was still a joyous gathering, even when the police started herding everyone, so I went to pose for a picture - but I suppose it looked like I was trying to stop the flow of traffic, so all of a sudden I was snatched and my hands were tied," he said.

The fourth Hopkins student to be arrested was a senior who wished to remain anonymous. The student said that, like Laverty and Levine, he was merely trying to make his way home when the police detined him.

"I was standing on the corner of the sidewalk when an officer came up to my friends and me and said 'We want you to leave now.' I looked him in the eye and said 'I want to leave, but you guys are blocking my way home.' The officer said 'That's enough from you,' and he just grabbed me by the neck and pushed me down and handcuffed me," he said.

Baltimore City Police officers declined to comment on the arrests, but spokesperson Sterling Clifford said he believed each detainment to be justified.

Clifford confirmed that a taser was deployed on one student, but said that the student had defied the officers' efforts to tame the crowd.

"I can't go into a lot of detail, but the officers who were there were dealing with a large crowd of people, asking them to disperse. Fifteen people had to be taken into custody and one resisted to the point where he had to be subdued," Clifford said.

Each detainee asserted that they were not acting in any manner worthy of being held captive, but rather that they seemed to be targeted at random from a street of celebrators.

To this, Clifford maintained that he believed the police must have been acting with "extreme discretion," and that the detainee's views of the event may have been distorted.

"It is not at all uncommon for people who have had uncomfortable run-ins with police to offer a different version of events but it is important to note that this was a large crowd and an unruly situation, and the officers who were there must have been behaving with the interests of the Charles Village community in mind," Clifford said.

Baltimore City Police took steps to make their intentions clear, repeatedly warning students to get off the streets in cooperation with Bennett, who described students' reactions to her efforts to move them off the street.

"At first I felt the City Police were being very lenient. We were trying to hold students back from the streets while traffic lights were changing, but increasingly we couldn't stop them; there was a lot of banging on the cars," Bennett said.

None of the individuals interviewed could recall the exact point at which the street-side celebration became a confrontation with the police officers, but all attested to the fact that the officers issued several warnings to flee the streets, beginning at around 1:30 a.m. and growing increasingly insistent until the last detainee was taken away around 2 a.m.

According to Clifford, the police were on the scene two hours before arrests took place.

"[We received] a half-dozen calls from residents in the area. The arrests took place around 2 a.m., the first officers arrived after midnight," he said.

Timestamps from photos taken by News-Letter photographers, however, indicated that the first police arrived on the scene at 1:10 a.m.

"The Lieutenant on duty came up to me and said 'These people have got to get out of the street.' I tried walking amongst them and yelling, many looked directly after me and said 'Whose streets? Our streets!'" Bennett said.

Initially, efforts were focused on keeping students on the sidewalks and out of the street. Bennett and the officer on the scene issued four verbal warnings using a PA system, but these went largely unheeded.

"It reaches a point when the people who live here have a right to call [us] and the hospital has a right to function and the people who want to pass through the neighborhood have the right to operate their vehicles," Clifford said.

"In my opinion, the police were really kind to give the crowd blocking a major city intersection about 30 minutes to celebrate, as much of the city was, but eventually it's got to stop," Bennett said.

Fially, the police took more forceful action. In groups of approximately seven to 10 officers, they closed ranks with members of the crowd and physically forced them from the sidewalks, away from the intersection of 33rd and St. Paul Streets. According to students present, officers said "leave or get arrested," "you heard it straight from me, go home" and "clear the area or go to jail."

"The police became very aggressive, they rushed the crowd at one point, and then it was like a toggle switch flipped and they started arresting people - they said disperse, disperse, but [those people] were boxed in," Goodfellow said.

According to Bennett, the visibly agitated crowd called the police officers "fascists" and said "this isn't what we voted Obama in for."

"[These were] heat of the moment declarations people came up with to justify not wanting to leave - those who didn't go, who kept turning around and challenging the police officers, those people ended up on the ground being arrested," Bennett said.

The amount of time elapsed from when police officers decided to use force to when the crowd of five hundred was thinned out was approximately 20 minutes, according to Bennett.

Police were intolerant towards News-Letter photographers, denying them access to the area in which arrests were being made.

"It's a shame; I wish that at the very least we had thought to gather at the Beach, instead of gathering at 33rd and St Paul. Short of the noise complaints, we could have gone on and on," Bennett said.

Held and released without charges

Once the individuals had been rounded up and escorted into the police vans, they were still not informed of their supposed violations, nor were their rights read to them.

Levine said the group was told they were likely to be charged with inciting a riot or for disorderly conduct.

"I wanted to say I didn't cause a riot, I just wanted to go to bed," he said.

Though the detainees were separated into two different vans, they shared similar stories of being distraught and confused on the way to the holding center.

According to Druke, several of those in the van were in serious discomfort. One begged to use the restroom and another, a middle-aged female schoolteacher, asked if she could be put in handcuffs rather than the painful zip-ties. These requests were ignored by the police officers.

"We weren't told anything until we got to the holding center. We were just told to shut up," Druke said.

Once at Baltimore Central Booking, many detainees were frustrated in their attempts to gain understanding of the situation.

"Everyone was shoved into the same room, and no one was offered the opportunity to call a lawyer or ask any questions. There was one girl [from Goucher] who was crying and she kept asking 'Why am I here?' He said 'I don't know, I didn't arrest you.' She asked him to find the officer who did, and he said no," Druke said.

Levine said that he asked repeatedly if he could call a lawyer, and the police responded that there was no need for him to do that.

The anonymous senior recounted a similar story.

"The police were so unbelievably unprofessional, they treated us like s--t, they were cursing at us the whole time. At one point I was taken with four or five other students to a cell with accused drug dealers and prostitutes, and we still had no idea why we were there," he said.

Goodfellow said that he didn't expect to gain additional understanding from the officers.

"The Northern District [precinct] told us we were going to be charged with inciting a riot. You can't say anything to that. You can't speak in that situation," he said.

Singh was put into solitary confinement for an hour and a half.

The others were split up into jail cells divided by gender and spent the early morning amongst Baltimore's accused.

Around 3 a.m., Levine recalls an unidentified stranger appearing at the booking facility. The individual asked if the Hopkins students could be released, and a police officer assured him that they would be. Levine expected to be released within the hour.

It was 9:15 a.m. before the last detainees were released.

Repercussions for participants and possibly police

In the wake of Wednesday morning's events, detainees and University officials are attempting to sort out how a peaceful gathering took such a drastic turn.

"This was disturbing, distressing, and [we were subject to] the worst kind of policing that you can imagine," Goodfellow said.

Clifford maintains that the Baltimore City Police were entirely within their bounds of legality by detaining the group overnight, as anyone is subject to be detained for up to 24 hours.

Clifford said he does not expect this instance to turn into a legal case.

Several of the detainees, however, including Goodfellow and Laverty, have pledged to contact the American Civil Liberties Union and possibly pursue a civil action lawsuit.

According to Goodfellow, the Charles Village Civic Association is investigating the matter as well.

"The [Civic Association] is looking at this very, very closely. Do the laws of reason and logic apply to the police? Obviously they don't," he said.

Singh said he is concerned about the threats this may pose to his status as an international student, especially since the citation has been documented.

"This could harm my visa status, it could prevent me from applying for future visas, and [TSA officers] could take me aside for random questioning at the airport," he said.

Bennett said that upon reflection, she wished that the Hopkins-affiliated students and faculty had complied with the officers' original orders.

"This should always be in the back of minds of Hopkins students no matter what: When faced with a police officer telling them to do something, they need to do that right away, with their mouths closed," she said. "They need to think about their future."

Goodfellow said he thought this was an incident during which the University should have intervened on behalf of the community.

"I really hope the University has a serious dialogue not only with the community but also with the law enforcement. This is the perfect opportunity to think about what we mean by security," he said.

Senior Media Relations Representative Amy Lunday said that the University does not plan to turn a blind eye to the events.

"The University is aware that the police department is reviewing the events of early this morning. We contacted City Hall today to offer any assistance we can provide with that review and asked to be kept informed of the results," Lunday wrote in an e-mail to the News-Letter on Wednesday.

Goodfellow said he hopes to reconcile the immediacy of his experience with a legitimate explanation of the police actions on Nov. 5.

"It's one thing to know that these things take place in the abstract, but to have it actually occurring on your body is really troubling. You realize the enormity of everyday violence in Baltimore at the hands of the police the police are supposed to be a force oriented toward inducing order, not destroying order," he said.

-Additional reporting by Liz Schwartzberg