Originally Published On Substack June 29th, 2021
In a recent viral video of a number of police officers in Ocean City, Maryland acting with true heroism and civic-minded virtue, eschewing personal safety, put themselves in harm’s way earlier this week to save the residents of their fair city from the menace of a group of young men standing around… vaping…. In Public… Outside.
Exposing their depraved act of pen vapory in the site of God and man. Things escalated as one of them took one last drag on a vape pen before putting it away and when told to produce an ID he refused.
Which, under Maryland’s “Stop and Identify” statute (Md. Criminal Code §4-206) he was under no obligation whatsoever to produce. Ocean City’s finest didn’t let a few minor details, like public vaping & failure to ID not being arrestable offenses get in the way of their right to arrest, hog-tie and brutalize a young black man.
To these police go the thanks of a grateful city. But in a recent development, there is one group of people speaking out about against the use of violence to prevent public vaping. It is, quite literally, the same people whose public advocacy demanded violence be used to prevent public vaping.
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids issued what they called their “disturbing statement” (a title that was even more correct than they realized) It reads:
We are horrified and outraged by the incident of police violence against Black teenagers in Ocean City, MD, this weekend. There is absolutely no place for violence and abuse in enforcing tobacco laws. The purpose of such laws is to keep people safe and healthy. Our communities cannot be safe and healthy when police choose to enforce these laws with violence, often disproportionately against black and brown people. There must be a full investigation of this incident and accountability for the use of force against these young people.
There is a lot to unpack there …
First, this had absolutely nothing to do with enforcing tobacco laws. This may seem like a petty complaint, but the fact is that any kind of sleight of hand regarding definitions, in the hands of untrustworthy politicians (also known as politicians) and public interest groups who know how to exploit it can be a very big deal. The best example is the way the term “assault weapon” was created by gun control advocacy groups. Especially the Violence Policy Center (VPC), who took advantage of the 1986 NFA amendment that banned the sale of Assault Rifles In fact, in a 1988 white paper by Josh Sugarman called “Assault Weapons In America” founder of the VPC stated that this new term should be applied to common semi-automatic sporting rifles (like AR-15’s) to exploit the public’s ignorance about guns and gun laws, so they would conflate these common sporting rifles with actual military-style rifles, such as the similar looking, but functionally different M-16. This small rebranding has, ever since, made the gun control debate little more than a fight between those who swallowed his lies and those who knew better. For a greater understanding of how that gun control history has and still continues to play out I recommend:
I say that to say this:
Maryland law defines “smoking” as: To use or carry any lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe, or other tobacco product of any Maryland law defines “smoking” as: To use or carry any lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe, or other tobacco product of any kind kind
It’s all well and good for them to demand a full investigation and total accountability for this use of force. But that suggests they really haven’t ever fully thought through what that means.
When police act immorally, in a manner outside the bounds of the law, the police are at fault.
When the police act immorally because they are enforcing the law, the police are at fault, as are the lawmakers, activists & public interest groups who played a role in that law’s passage.
Government is a one-trick pony. The only tools it has at its disposal are coercion and more coercion. To expect anything other than coercion is inexplicable.
Perhaps these problems aren’t getting any better because police brutality & trampling of our civil liberties is merely the effect of a greater cause that continues to miss the forest for the trees. If the government has a monopoly on the use of violence and this is their only mechanism of enforcement, you should not be surprised when the laws you petitioned for are enforced with violence, why would you expect change, because a few citizens gave a mild rebuke on social media?
If you want to know just how much respect police have for a private citizen publicly asserting their rights and grievances, you need only watch the video that is at the center of this controversy. And when you see officers of the government flagrantly abusing the power they currently have, how does it make sense to call for investigations, special councils and more money for increased training and oversight. You are handing greater control and an even blinder trust to the very people who just proved they cannot be trusted with the very thing you are giving.
In fact, MD government released to the press later that day a statement to justify and condone their officer’s use of violence as entirely appropriate. The solution to an over-extended, over-reaching government cannot possibly be more government
But what officials in Ocean City, as well as all the activists who push to get these kinds of laws passed, appear to miss is that such a scene would not have been possible at all had it not been for the dumb rule they put in place. Legislators need to confront the fact that any law on the books has to be enforced with armed agents of the state. Of course, the state’s purview has grown to encompass much more, charged with stamping out victimless offenses like drug use, prostitution, and one of the newest moral panics: vaping. Lawmakers may disagree with those personal choices—some of which may be deleterious to the health of the individual— But perhaps the problem is, we are making this issue a lot more complicated than it possibly needs to be. If I may suggest a simple standard of conduct for activists and lawmakers. (Bearing in mind that whatever law you are passing will always be carried out by guys with guns) that it is not acceptable to submit or pass any legislation – especially when the desired result equates to legislating morality – that sends guys with guns to do something that you, yourself, would not be willing to use a gun to accomplish.