CAAL, NAACP activists take to City Hall and Boardwalk to fight for equality
Annapolis, Easton, Cambridge, Salisbury and Ocean City.
These were the stops for the “Freedom Bus Ride," a two-bus tour of activists, Black clergy and politicians that took to Route 50 on Monday, stopping and speaking at several landmarks that held historical significance with the civil rights movement.
Ocean City was included as the terminus, though, because of the recent pair of controversial incidents in June that saw local law enforcement use force against Black teenagers on the Boardwalk.
The first order of business for the groups’ leadership was meeting with local politicians, including Mayor Rick Meehan and Del. Wayne Hartman.
“We were very concerned when we saw what occurred in June of this year when several African American youths were subjected to excessive force,” remarked Carl Snowden, convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders. "We came to meet with the mayor and express to him our concern. We’re thankful that he agreed to meet with us.”
The caucus along with multiple Maryland NAACP chapters organized the event. After meeting Meehan and Hartman, the group held a small rally in front of City Hall before taking to the Boardwalk. The 100 or so activists chanted slogans such as “No justice, no peace” and "This is what community looks like” as they made their way north from 3rd Street.
Snowden said they asked Meehan to look into hiring an "officer of equity and equality," or an official whose job would be to monitor and assess the city's handling of racially sensitive situations, especially as they pertain to ensuring people of color are not mistreated when they interact with law enforcement.
"Budgets reflect peoples' priorities,” Snowden said. “If you look at a budget, you know where their priority is.”
Snowden said they also asked that Ocean City Police Department outsource the investigation into the incidents to a third party and that officers involved in the incidents be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigations.
“It’s a way to ensure the case is taken seriously,” Snowden remarked. "We have indicated to the mayor that we are willing to work with him and his administration to move this city, this county, this state forward. He has indicated that he is willing to work with us.”
Rumors lingered during and after the event that a City Council meeting, for which the activists had hoped to be present, may have been canceled to avoid a confrontation between activists and Ocean City officials.
“The short answer is no, we didn’t cancel the meeting (because of the activists),” said Council President Matt James. “The agenda that was given to me from the city clerk's office didn’t have anything that was highly sensitive … Since I’ve been council president, there have been multiple times that we’ve canceled meetings because of a light agenda.”
James said the meeting was canceled Thursday afternoon and he didn’t learn of the bus tour until Friday morning. He added that the meeting between the mayor and activists was supposed to occur at 3 p.m., but it didn't until around 5 p.m. The council typically meets at 6 p.m.
“I never thought those meetings would (overlap with each other),” James said.
Other speakers at the rally included Del. Sandy Bartlett (Anne Arundel), NAACP Maryland State Conference President Willie Flowers, former student member of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education Drake Smith and NAACP Salisbury University President Dorian Rogers.
Smith said the intent of the activists was not to deepening the divides in the sociopolitical discourse.
“No one (should) get it twisted,” Smith said. “We’re not anti-police, we’re anti-bad policing. We’re not anti-government, we’re (against) nontransparent government. We will keep coming out here until our demands are met. It’s simple … Those that live in this city, who visit this city, who think black lives don’t matter — one man drove past and said, ‘what about my life?’ What about my life as an 18-year-old black man in the United States of America? What about my life?”
In his remarks, Rogers said he wanted to see young people step up to keep their movement strong.
“As youth involved in our community and society, we need to ensure that we continue to show up and continue to engage within our social and political arenas that we interact with today,” Rogers said.
“The commonality that we all have is we all have young students who come here and they do not deserve to be targeted for the color of their skin. We shall not have that.”