Above photo: A police tactical vehicle leaves the scene with officers in fatigues hanging on. Courtesy WBAL’s Robert Lang.
The Black Alliance for Peace Baltimore Citywide Alliance strongly opposes the proposal for a new $330 million joint training facility for Baltimore’s police and fire departments on West Baltimore’s Coppin State University campus. The contradictions of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) fostering growing relationships with the state are sharpened with this proposal on a campus with access to the Department of Defense 1033 program budgets, which transfers military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies. Any potential existence of a joint training facility for a police department currently under a consent decree, that names violations of civil liberties, not only serves to create and sustain tensions negatively impacting the overall campus climate but the surrounding predominantly Black, working-class communities of West Baltimore.
Baltimore City’s 1033 program budget is not exclusive to the HBCU campuses of Coppin State University and Morgan State University, allowing them access to weapons such as rifles, glocks, and “riot style” 12-gauge shotguns. Over the last decade, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) has received roughly $500,000 in military-grade weapons and vehicles. Alongside access to the 1033 program, the city engages in the “Deadly Exchange” program, a massive exchange between the U.S. and Israeli police and Israeli military where hyper-militarized policing techniques and technology are shared. There is also Operation Relentless Pursuit, making Baltimore 1 of 7 cities, including Detroit, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Kansas City, Memphis, and Milwaukee, selected for the Trump Administration’s “surge” of federal, state,and local resources. More recently, the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD), a private police force, has been approved to work alongside the Baltimore City Police with no community oversight supported by the stakeholders of Johns Hopkins, and not the people of Baltimore or students and workers on campus. All of this is in addition to half of Baltimore’s discretionary (as opposed to recurring) annual budget being routinely allocated to the police. Altogether, the city, state, and federal funds allocated to police amount to more than $900,000,000.
Similar to the push for “Cop City” in Atlanta, this proposed training facility is being championed by the Black Misleadership Class of Baltimore City. Although the status of who controls the Baltimore City Police Department remains in limbo, this project is backed by Mayor Brandon M. Scott and is spearheaded by Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, who has a cloud of controversy around him. As the Baltimore Banner notes, “[Mosby] has championed the project for nearly a decade.” Furthermore, Mosby’s time as city council president has had its fair share of issues, from two ethics violations concerning the mishandling of funds, to referring to the veto of the Security Deposits Bill as ”modern-day redlining”, despite how it would have positively impacted working-class Black communities. Yet, Mosby has made this training facility his legacy project.
“The issue in Baltimore City is not a lack of police training, but instead consistent over-policing that hones in on the colonial status of Africans and other oppressed peoples occupied in their own communities,” says BAP-Baltimore Citywide Alliance member Erica Caines.
What was once a fixation on a “war on drugs,” is now being slated as a “war on crime” to ensure the constant approval of budgets for more policing “to healing the wounds of the past,” while ignoring the ongoing plight of the poor, working class residents of the city that includes a lack of sufficient healthcare, education, housing, and any semblance of People(s)-Centered Human Rights.
According to Rafiki Morris, a former community organizer of people with opioid use disorders, there are 60,000 people currently living with addiction or recovery in Baltimore City. Given the criminalization of addiction and the militarization of police, the “citizens are constantly harassed, incarcerated and threatened with incarceration by overzealous police who use them as confidential informants (CI), thus turning a significant portion of the population against their communities. These people also effectively serve as the eyes and ears of the police (CIs), since any minor contact with police or any association with other felons can violate the conditions of parole or probation, thus landing them back in jail. For all intents and purposes, Baltimore, is an internal U.S. colony, kept in check by an occupying armed force called the police.
In Baltimore, 20.3% of the population live on or under the poverty line, which is 131.5% above the state’s poverty line. Rather than developing sustainable programs to address this endless cycle of poverty, Baltimore proposes to spend an obscene amount of money on a police training center that includes classrooms, administration buildings, a firing range, indoor and outdoor fitness, a community plaza, and a tactical training village. The training village combines street widths commonly seen in Baltimore City (avenue, street, and alley) with building typology (two-story row homes, liquor stores, garden apartments, and convenience stores). This village models real-world scenarios to assist training in maneuvering through Baltimore neighborhoods. The implications of developing expertise in urban warfare without dutifully returning justice and power to the hands of communities only entail the successful advancement of oppression.
Proponents of a Cop City in Baltimore must recognize the relationship intentionally stewarded between the police and city residents. The proposal is not only profoundly offensive but erases the steep historical context of the corruption and injustice African/Black poor working-class communities have been subject to with vocal opposition, dawning the existence of the police state. The absurdity of such notions is perpetuated when analyzing the suggestions of the Community Oversight Task Force responsible for “guiding” the morality of the BPD throughout its Consent Decree obligations. Holding this truth, it becomes clear that there is no intention of the State and its Black Misleadership Class to dismantle and repair the fundamental power imbalances between law enforcement and citizens, making this corruption possible. There is no monetary incentive there, and the ethical burden is too high. This is the message being confirmed by a Cop City proposal. Our college campuses — the only places in the city where our youth can access higher education — are not grounds for grossly underdeveloped, atomistic, violent passion projects of the neocolonialist state. With this, there is no respect for our youth’s future nor our institutions’ legacy and potential. We are called to protect what is supposed to be ours.
The existence of a training facility in a predominantly African/Black poor working class community will only be used to enforce further the status quo of white power and colonial control over the lives of African and other oppressed nations of people. The solution to the issues that plague Baltimore City is not MORE police training but People(s) Centered Human Rights ensuring the needs of Baltimore City residents are met.