Video from earlier this month of violent encounters with Ocean City, MD police officers illustrated that there is no incident too minor for police to escalate. In both viral videos, the tasings and/or beatings by Ocean City cops began when the Black police brutality victims were vaping in areas where vaping is restricted.
In one video, 19 year-old Brian Anderson is on the ground, covered in cops, who restrain him while one yells, “Stop resisting,” to which Anderson responds, “I’m not resisting.” A crowd gathers to watch, jeer, and record. Then one of the cops begins kicking and kneeing Anderson, hard. The arrest began when Anderson was instructed to stop vaping on the boardwalk.
In the other video, 18 year-old Tazier Griffin is seen with his hands up as police approach him and tase him, knocking him to the ground. This encounter also began when police approached the teen because of a violation of the vaping ordinance. According to police, after tasing Griffin for vaping, he was searched where police they found cannabis and paraphernalia.
Vaping on the boardwalk is banned as part of the initiative to make the area “smoke-free,” and applies to “to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, e-cigarettes, and any other matter or substance that contains tobacco.” If someone is caught smoking in a smoke-free zone they are supposed to be given a simple citation.
Much more happened to the two Black teens in these shocking videos. The Ocean City Police Department has announced it will be investigating the incidents but all but defended the cops in statements: “We are aware of the social media videos circulating regarding this incident. Our officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance. All uses of force go through a detailed review process,” the statement reads in part.
Another statement dismissed concerns by many that both violent arrests involved young Black men and framed the police response to these vaping teens as part of “maintaining control” of the boardwalk.
“While the use of force is never the intended outcome, our police department’s first priority is to protect and serve. They do not target based on race or age,” a statement reads. “They are focused only on keeping our residents and visitors safe by enforcing the law and diffusing situations as quickly as possible, while maintaining control over the environment.”
The incidents have also brought about calls for more accountability—public defenders in Ocean City have called for cops to wear body worn cameras—and an acknowledgement of Ocean City’s racist history as a piece in Mother Jones titled “Behind the Video of Cops Brutalizing Kids for Vaping Is a History of Racial Exclusion, Force, and Profit,” illustrated. But the incidents also display a troubling history of Ocean City using aggressive policing to handle harmless violations all under the guise of supporting tourism is hardly new to Ocean City.
In 2018, the city lost a federal First Amendment lawsuit filed by boardwalk performers—a staple of Ocean City’s takes-all-kinds atmosphere—who were targeted and harassed by police, in part brought on by increased rules and regulations against performing and sentiments by City Council that the performers bothered tourists. Meanwhile, a ban on “topless women” has been stubbornly upheld by the city though it was recently challenged once again.
One of the most extreme calls for police overreaction came from a member of the Ocean City Council and involved cannabis. Last October, as The Outlaw Report noted, Ocean City Councilperson John Gehrig Jr. used a meeting that was about increasing the number of police officers in Ocean City to call for more aggressive enforcement of cannabis use.
“You know what I think about this marijuana problem. And I don’t know if it’s marijuana or CBD, I don’t care if it’s medical marijuana, I think we really need to work with the state,” Gehrig said. “There’s no reason to smoke medical marijuana…[there’s] no need to be smoking weed when it’s disrupting what we’re doing here.”
Gehrig’s comments were a bit more on-the-nose than many anti-cannabis stances. The councilperson eschewed the moral panics and junk science cannabis advocates have come to anticipate and instead framed it as entirely about tourism. He invoked the “family image” of Ocean City, a misnomer to anyone who has gone “downy ocean” which is known as much for its hard-partying and sexist novelty T-shirts as miniature golf and french fries cooked in peanut oil.
“[Cannabis] can destroy our family image for sure, if we have marijuana everywhere,” Gehrig said. “We have to start thinking of a plan on how we’re going to attack pot.”
Specifically, Gehrig took issue with cannabis smell and said Ocean City needed to start courting a different kind of tourist—one who does not smoke cannabis.
“Now part of that is you know hiring an economic development salesperson to go out and get customers who aren’t going to be smoking a bunch of marijuana. That’s one piece,” he said.
Then he called for the surveillance of beachgoers and motel renters and the use of drug dogs: “Somehow we’re going to have to enforce [cannabis smoking], I don’t know if that’s dogs, I don’t know if we work with hotels to identify the problem, get people in the hotels and rentals. But we have to come up, we need a task force on marijuana because that went to a new level this year.”
According to the ACLU, Maryland arrests Black people for cannabis 2.1 times as much as white people and cannabis arrests make up nearly 50% of the state’s drug arrests.
The Outlaw Report reached out to Gehrig Jr. for comment on the police violence against teens vaping and his past “attack on pot” comments but did not receive a response.