Gathering in Ocean City after Viral Video, Lawmakers Call For More Police Accountability and Reform

Worcester County NAACP President Ivory Smith (left), Worcester County Commissioner Diana Purnell (D), and Prince George's County Councilman Rodney Streeter (D) spoke at a breakfast addressing police reform at the Maryland Association of Counties Conference. Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

Two months after viral videos showed police violence against a group of Black teens on the Ocean City boardwalk, a panel of state and local lawmakers at the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) Summer Conference in the beach town said they want accountability for the incident, as well as reforms.

In June, the Ocean City Police Department was at the center of national controversy when officers subdued and tased a group of Black teens after one of them was seen vaping on the boardwalk.

Asked who in the room had seen the viral video of the incident, about three-quarters of attendees raised their hands.

Prince George’s County Councilmember Mel Franklin (D), who organized the discussion at the MACo Large County Coalition’s annual breakfast meeting, said he invited Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro and members of the city council to join the conversation. None were present at the breakfast.

“At some point, when do we say, enough is enough?” Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s) asked at the meeting.

According to the Mapping Police Violence database, 159 people have died at the hands of Maryland police officers from 2013 and 2021 — including 15 people this year.

One of those people was Ryan LeRoux, who was shot by a police officer at a McDonald’s in Montgomery County last month.

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D), who was present at the meeting, said that the county council has worked to implement police reform measures locally. But asked if those policies have had an effect on the county’s police department, Jawando said that changing the culture of a police department takes a long time.

“You can have the right policy on paper, but what is happening at the training academy? Who are you hiring? Is it really embedded and who’s the leadership of the department? Are they bought into it and … is it being implemented with fidelity?” he asked. “Those are tough, tough questions, and it’s hard work.”

Several of Montgomery County’s policies, such as requiring other officers to intervene when colleagues use excessive force, reflect the sweeping police reform package passed by the General Assembly this year.

The panel acknowledged the statewide legislation but suggested that it doesn’t go far enough.

“I do believe that there is more that we can do from a policy standpoint, absolutely,” Barnes said. “I believe that there will be a more concentrated focus in the upcoming session in the Maryland General Assembly centered around some things that the House Bill 670 did not cover.”

Both Barnes and Worcester County Commissioner Diana Purnell (D) argued that cultural shifts need to be made across police departments.

Barnes said that local police and fire departments “ha[ve] always been the ‘good ‘ol boy network’” and are infused with “deep-rooted systemic racism.”

“Those are known facts,” he said.

Purnell said that there needs to be an open line of communication between departments and public officials, but that, in these conversations, people will often tell her she’s being too hard on law enforcement.

“I know the history, you know the history of policing and slavery. You understand that,” she said, referring to origins of policing in slave patrols.

Purnell also said that she’s noticed that a lot of police officers are military veterans.

“… I’m gonna tell you, the thing that scares me the most about any police department are those policemen that come back from war zones and they are here to kill,” she said. “If you think I’m a little off base, look what happened on January 6th.”

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.