OCEAN CITY — Over three months after two incidents on the Boardwalk involving alleged police brutality, a coalition of African-American leaders on Tuesday held a press conference at City Hall seeking an independent investigation.
The Caucus of African-American Leaders (CAAL) held the conference on Tuesday after the arrests of four African-American men in June. During those separate incidents, Ocean City police officers arrested multiple suspects after they allegedly failed to comply with orders to stop vaping on the Boardwalk in violation of the town’s smoking ordinance. In one instance caught on a cell phone video, one of the suspects is seen being kneed repeatedly by an officer. In another instance, a suspect is seen being tased by a police officer.
The videos went viral on social media and prompted state and local African-American leaders to call for an investigation. It’s important to note the videos only showed fractions of larger events on the Boardwalk that escalated when the individuals involved reportedly did not comply with officers’ orders.
Each of the individuals involved was arrested and charged with various offenses such as assault, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstructing and hindering and failure to obey a lawful order, for example. At least one of the suspects was scheduled to appear for trial on Tuesday, which prompted the CAAL press conference, but the trial was postponed until November.
In July, the CAAL and state and local NAACP branches had a Freedom Bus tour across the Eastern Shore that ended with a stop in Ocean City. CAAL and NAACP leaders met with Mayor Rick Meehan to call for an independent investigation into the incidents. On Tuesday, the CAAL leadership returned to Ocean City to call on the Maryland Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent investigation. CAAL leaders cited recently-passed state legislation requiring an independent investigation during cases of alleged police brutality.
Carl Snowden of the CAAL said on Tuesday African-American leaders around the state would not sit still until an independent investigation into the June incidents was conducted.
“Our goal is pretty simple,” he said. “We just want to make sure justice is served. It’s a simple proposition. If you touch one of us unjustly, you will have to deal with all of us. If you attack a hornet’s nest, you will deal with all of the hornets.”
Salisbury University NAACP Chapter President Dorien Rogers said the time was now to address not only the Ocean City incidents, but all examples of alleged systemic racism.
“We’re matching our actions to our words,” he said. “We not just fighting for these incidents. We’re fighting for all instances of injustice.”
Snowden pointed out one of the OCPD officers involved in the incidents is married to the Worcester County State’s Attorney.
“We met with the mayor and the police chief,” he said. “One of the officers involved is married to the Worcester County State’s Attorney. We’re calling on the Maryland Attorney General to conduct an independent investigation. The mayor decided not to have an independent investigation. Generally speaking, when an officer is involved, there is an independent investigation.”
Larry Diggs of the Harford County NAACP chapter promised aggressive action if the organization’s demands were not met.
“Our mission is to address and hopefully eradicate systemic racism,” he said. “We cannot continue with this. We’re going to be aggressive. The journey of 1,000 miles starts right here.”
For his part, Snowden said the African-American leadership is not claiming the young men involved in the incident were not absent of blame, but merely the level of force allegedly used did not match their actions.
“Police brutality has to stop,” he said. “What happened on the Boardwalk in June is unacceptable. We don’t claim any young man did anything right or wrong, but what happened to them was unacceptable.”
Rogers said the coalition is simply seeking just and accountability, not just for the incidents in Ocean City, but for all instances of alleged injustice.
“If you see something unjust going and you don’t do anything, you must be comfortable with it,” he said. “That’s why we’re taking action. There was no accountability here. What can we do to bring accountability to our community?”
In advance of Tuesday’s press conference, Snowden implied the city and its police department were under the impression the June incidents would blow over in time.
“If elected officials believed that by doing nothing and saying nothing, that this matter would blow over, they are in for a rude awakening,” Snowden said.
Ocean City officials did not attend the press conference on Tuesday, but were aware of the issues raised by the coalition, according to Communications and Marketing Director Jessica Waters.
“We are aware of the requests by the CAAL,” she said. “We have met with statewide representatives and have listened to their concerns. We continue to work with local representatives of the NAACP from Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset County to work together and move forward.”