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A few days ago, videos concerning Black teens vaping on the Maryland Beach City Boardwalk went viral.
For context, vaping and smoking are banned on the boardwalk except for designated areas. Vaping and smoking outside labeled areas are punishable with a $500 fine - a costly fine, but nothing more than a fine. A quote from David Recor, City Manager when the ordinance was passed was “Will we haul people off to jail for smoking on the Boardwalk? No, that's not our approach.” It was such a low priority, one of the teens noted that there weren’t even signs stating that vaping and smoking were banned.
So people were understandably upset when they saw videos featuring the Boardwalk’s cops removing the vaping teens with an excessive amount of force. The vapers were Black teenagers who were attacked, kneed in the stomach, and tied before being removed and arrested.
WOW. Cops tased this 17yo Black teen and repeatedly drove their knees into his ribs until he collapsed unconscious on the ground. Then they hogtied his arms/legs and placed in a police van… all over vaping?? pic.twitter.com/4C274Q8Hnm— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) June 14, 2021
Onlookers seemed to think the force the police applied was excessive as well. Public safety aides had to create a perimeter to “separate the aggressive and hostile crowd” from the officers making arrests.” In response to the videos, the police department responded “Our officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance” and their officer’s use of force would go through a “detailed review process.”
Although there is only teen shown in the above video link, there were five boys, out of which four were arrested. Vaping itself was not an offense they could have been arrested for. Instead, the justification for their arrest was a mixture of other charges such as disorderly conduct, resisting and interfering with arrest, failure to provide proof of identity, second degree assault, and obstructing and hindering.
It appears that the teens were released with fines after a night in jail. However, there is a lot more for them to deal with. What began with a fun, graduation trip has ended with being assaulted and arrested, along with the issues that come with that. One teen even mentions in an interview after the incident that it was his first time going to the beach.
The importance of this particular case is the relevance to a particular argument that is still ongoing between vaping and anti-vaping activists - a menthol ban. Both sides are aware of the fact that menthol flavors are predominantly used within the Black community, making menthol bans an inherently charged issue.
Anti-vaping activists tend to argue that banning menthol will reduce rates of nicotine addiction within black communities. Activists who oppose menthol bans argue that illegalizing menthol flavors would lead to more police violence towards Black communities, even if the bans do target distribution and not usage.
The incident on the Maryland Boardwalk is a very clear example of how an intentionally non-violent ban can be escalated and turned into violence - even against the youth vaping bans were meant to protect.
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