Dan Rodricks

Ocean City fray: What part of ‘excessive force’ do police not understand? | COMMENTARY

I would like to hear how the large Ocean City police officer — the one with beefy arms and shoulders and long, powerful-looking legs — explains to the young man on the boardwalk why he repeatedly kneed him. Not one knee, not two knees, but three, then four, then five knees.

In the viral video from weekend confrontations between young men — all of them in their late teens — and police in Ocean City, the big cop approaches a human pileup on the boardwalk. Three other officers have a young man pinned down, trying to arrest him. The big cop appears to press his hands against the young man, then lowers his body like a football nose guard in a four-point stance. The cop then extends his right leg back and thrusts it forward, hitting the young man with his knee.


Not once, not twice, but three, four and five times.

I look forward to hearing how the big cop explains that, because I can’t imagine what the rationale could be.


The young man was struggling with the other officers and shouting that he wanted to know why the police were arresting him. Instead of just helping his fellow officers hold the young man, the big cop attacked him.

“Our officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance,” the Ocean City police said in an after-incident statement that could not be more obtuse. The statement might well have said, “We’re allowed to inflict excessive pain to stop teenagers from vaping or committing other minor offenses on the family-friendly boardwalk.”

Do they get CNN in Ocean City?

Does anyone read a newspaper there?

Anyone heard of George Floyd or myriad other Black men and women abused or killed in police custody?

Are the police in Ocean City aware that there are more than 290 million smartphone users in the United States and that the whole world is watching their actions in public spaces?

Has police training been enhanced since it became clear to everyone that more officers need to learn how to diffuse tense situations, not escalate them?

People outside of Baltimore are frequently critical of the city, its crime problem and the reforms required by the department’s consent decree with the Justice Department. But those reforms were proven necessary, and the BPD took on the tall challenge of redrafting its use-of-force policy and retraining the whole department in it. Until recently, Danny Murphy was the deputy police commissioner in charge of compliance, overseeing the development and implementation of new policies under the consent decree. “Our use of force policy,” Murphy told me last year, “is all about critical decision making, reassessing, de-escalating, using the least force possible to successfully resolve an incident.”


Looks to me that other departments need to follow the city’s lead on that.

I wasn’t on the boardwalk over the weekend. I also wasn’t in Minneapolis when George Floyd was murdered by a cop, Derek Chauvin, who had his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, but I know what I saw. There was video, some of the most disturbing images we have ever seen. “You can trust your eyes,” the prosecutor told the Chauvin jury.

I trust my eyes on the 10 seconds of Ocean City video that show that big cop kneeing the young man five times. How on Earth is that treatment justified? If it’s something they teach at the academy, we need to close the academy.

Don’t assume that I am defending lawlessness. If any of the four young men who were arrested in the Ocean City fray violated the rules of public spaces — vaping or smoking where it’s not allowed, for instance — or if they trespassed or tried to attack police officers, they’ll have to defend themselves.

By the same token, don’t assume that I relish bashing the police. I do not. I live and work in Baltimore and we have been through — and, in some respects, remain — in a crucible of crime, racial justice and police reform. Despite all the troubles and tensions, the city remains bogged down in incessant violence. We need police, and we need more officers trained in smart, ethical policing. We need to get to a place where people trust them and help them make our communities safe. The whole country needs that.

So I look at the Ocean City video, particularly the big cop kneeing the young man held by three officers, and I ask, “What the hell is going on?”


Does anyone pay attention? Does anyone learn anything? Where’s the peer pressure from all the good cops to stop others from going too far?

I am as baffled by cops using excessive force as I am by politicians who take bribes. Don’t they realize by now that it’s not only wrong, but that they’re going to get caught? (That’s especially true for cops; politicians don’t usually take bribes when there are cellphone cameras about.)

This has become a sad routine of American life — videos that capture police using stupidly excessive force on suspects, many of them Black men. The media, including this newspaper, describe the videos as “shocking,” a suggestion that Americans who see the images of police wrestling suspects or Tasing them are somehow jarred by the violent act.

That, in itself, is no longer what’s shocking to these tired eyes.

What’s shocking is that it keeps happening.