OCEAN CITY — Leaders of state and local NAACP branches completed a Freedom Bus tour of the Eastern Shore with a rally in front of City Hall in Ocean City on Monday evening.
The tour began in Annapolis and included stops in Easton, Cambridge, Salisbury and finally Ocean City. The final destination was chosen for the rally in peaceful protest following perceived excessive force by resort police officers against young African-American males in separate incidents on the Boardwalk in June.
Those incidents have been the subject of an internal investigation by the police department. It’s important to note snippets of those incidents went viral on social media but the videos only showed fractions of larger events on the Boardwalk that escalated when the individuals involved reportedly did not comply with officers’ orders.
On Monday, as the crowds from the Freedom Bus gathered in front of City Hall, NAACP leaders met inside with Mayor Rick Meehan and other city officials.
While the details of the closed meeting have not been made public, the coalition’s leadership said it was productive when they came out for the rally. Carl Snowden of the Caucus of African-American Leaders, who organized Monday’s Freedom Bus tour across the Eastern Shore, said the incidents on the Boardwalk in June prompted the meeting with Meehan and other city officials.
“We were very concerned with what we saw in June,” he said. “We want to work with the mayor and his administration to address what we believe was excessive force against young African-American males in those incidents, but also the systemic racism that continues to exist on the Eastern Shore. We’re thankful that the mayor agreed to meet with us.”
The coalition leaders said they made a handful of requests from the city including in the budget a new position to ensure diversity and accountability.
The coalition leaders said it was not appropriate to have an internal investigation and called for an independent agency to conduct the investigation. The leadership also suggested the officers involved should have been suspended during the investigation.
Worcester County NAACP President Ivory Smith said Monday’s meeting with resort officials was the first step in what will likely be a long process.
“It’s going to take some time,” he said. “The mayor is going to work with us and we’re going to hold them accountable. Everybody in this group needs to follow up and keep the pressure on.”
Salisbury University NAACP Chapter President Dorien Rogers asserted young African-American males were unduly targeted by local law enforcement.
“We have young students that come here, and they do not deserve to be targeted for the color of their skin,” he said. “We shall not have that.”
After some speeches and songs, the large group crossed Baltimore Avenue and marched a couple of blocks along the Boardwalk.
Town of Ocean City spokesperson Jessica Waters issued a comment after the meeting, which stemmed from a request by Baltimore Delegate J. Sandy Bartlett.
“The Mayor’s Office received a request for a meeting from Delegate Bartlett in mid-June. The mayor was happy to honor the request with the delegate, as open communication, transparency and positive dialogue with our state partners is always our goal,” the statement read. “The town fully supports the peaceful demonstrations made in Ocean City and across the Eastern Shore today. We are always supportive of individuals expressing their frustrations and requests for change. Ocean City is dedicated to listening and learning with compassion and professionalism.”