Citizens and lawmakers in Maryland are speaking out following multiple arrests of teenagers over the weekend. Viral footage shows Ocean City police as they beat, tase, and arrest teens for vaping on the boardwalk.
WARNING: Some of the video footage in this article may be disturbing to readers.
A Viral Arrest
Two videos shot earlier this month have thrown the internet into an uproar. In the first, shot on Saturday, June 12, a police officer can be seen repeatedly kneeing a teen while other officers hold him down.
According to a statement from the Ocean City Police Department, the teen had been a part of a large group of teens who had been vaping outside of designated smoking areas. When told to stop, police say the teen, identified as 19-year-old Brian Anderson refused, declining to provide ID and “[becoming] disorderly.” When they tried to arrest him, police say, Anderson resisted.
However, Anderson has told a different story of the encounter. Speaking to Good Morning America, Anderson denied that he continued to vape after being told to stop.
Anderson’s friend Jahtique John Lewis, who was with him that day, said that officers were following their group and “kept harassing us.”
“I asked him what was the problem and they were like, ‘Tell your boy to put his pen away,” Lewis said. “As I turned around, we see public safety and police is crowding us. Next thing I know, Brian is on the floor.”
Recurring Police Brutality?
The disturbing footage came on the heels of another filmed police counter in Ocean City. In the video, filmed on the beach on June 6, officers can be seen tasing a young man who appears unarmed.
According to police, the man had been threatening officers before they tased him, and that he “continued to make threats on officers, spit on them and resist arrest.” None of these described behaviors appear in the footage that was captured by bystanders that day.
Both videos have drawn widespread criticism from lawmakers and activists, including Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones.
“The video from this weekend in Ocean City is deeply disturbing,” Jones said in a tweet regarding the video of Anderson’s arrest. “Vaping on the Boardwalk is not a criminal offense. Black and brown children should not be tased while their hands are up.”
Senate President Bill Ferguson agreed, adding in a statement that, “No teenager should face brutality for walking along the Boardwalk.”
The video from this weekend in Ocean City is deeply disturbing. Vaping on the Boardwalk is not a criminal offense. Black and brown children should not be tased while their hands are up. Officers should not kneel on the back of a minor. Vaping should not yield a hog tie.— Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (@SpeakerAJones) June 14, 2021
In response to the incidents, the ACLU of Maryland renewed calls for officers to train on new use-of-force standards.
“Disturbingly, Ocean City police didn’t even try to de-escalate, especially over something as minor as vaping, which is not a criminal issue,” the group said in a statement. “The amount of force used here was inappropriate.”
A Department Doubles Down
Despite the heavy backlash, Ocean City Police said they officers’ use of force was justified.
“Our officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance,” a department statement said. “All uses of force go through a detailed review process. The uses of force from these arrests will go through a multilevel examination by the Assistant Patrol Commander, the Division Commander, and then by the Office of Professional Standards.”
Still, witnesses to the events continue to condemn that officers’ actions.
“I was thinking that this cannot be happening right in front of my face,” said the 18-year-old woman who filmed Anderson’s arrest. “I never thought I would witness any of this […] I was just praying that nobody got hurt.”
The woman said she pulled out her phone when Anderson’s shouts of “I can’t breathe” brought to mind last year’s murder of George Floyd by police officers.
“As an African-American woman it’s not OK to see my own race treated like that,” she said. “I thought we would learn from George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.”
Brian Anderson now faces charges of 2nd degree assault, disorderly conduct and resisting/interfereing with an arrest. Meanwhile, police reportedly charged the unidentified man in the June 6th video with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.