Police Lost Control of Tourist Town After Violently Cracking Down on Popular Car Show
For the past few years, a large auto show called H2oi held near the end of September has attracted tens of thousands of car enthusiasts to Ocean City, Maryland, for a weekend of partying and showing off their custom-built vehicles.
In 2016, the organizers of H2oi were forced to cancel the event, after city officials refused to issue permits, citing reckless driving and rowdy crowds. However, thousands of people still showed up to Ocean City that year, and created their own unsanctioned celebration, which strained an already complicated relationship between the local police and many members of the east coast car community.
Now, more people continue to show up on the same weekend every year, and each year, tensions between the police and the H2oi visitors continue to rise.
In 2018, the official H2oi organizers moved the show to Atlantic City, likely to distance themselves from the unsanctioned event in Ocean City, but the unauthorized gathering just won’t go away. In fact, it continues to grow in popularity despite the official event having moved to another city.
Local police and government officials have increased fines and began towing cars for very common modifications in an attempt to scare away attendees of the unsanctioned gathering, but the increased enforcement has only escalated hostilities.
Attendees of the event have told the Mind Unleashed that they believe Ocean City is discriminating against them because their crowd is younger than the attendees of bike week and the classic car weeks, which happen to have just as many injuries and arrests during their events.
This year, the Ocean City Police Department increased fines yet again, and declared a “special event zone,” which instituted a 30mph speed limit throughout the entire city. H2oi attendees showed up planning to get ticketed or even towed—but were determined to have fun regardless.
The most common complaint that police received throughout the weekend was that cars were doing “burnouts” in front of crowds of people who were cheering them on. In one case, two cheering bystanders were struck by an out of control vehicle, but both victims told paramedics that they were fine and did not need to go to the hospital. There were also a number of fistfights reported—an already extremely common occurrence in Ocean City considering that heavy alcohol consumption is at the center of the area’s tourism industry.
The police appeared to be making a point of intimidating the H2oi visitors as much as possible. In one of the first incidents of the weekend, a group was pulled over and ripped out of their vehicles at gunpoint after false reports that they were brandishing a gun in traffic. No weapons were found during the search.
At least 121 people were arrested, and many of these arrests involved excessive force, like that seen in the video above. According to footage posted to social media, many of the injuries that occurred over the weekend actually took place at the hands of the police, like the following clip posted to Instagram.
One officer in particular, Sgt. Todd Speigle, appeared especially trigger-happy. The Mind Unleashed was on the scene on Saturday, embedded in the crowds, and witnessed Speigle indiscriminately pepper spray a crowd of people who were chanting for him to release a young man that was being arrested for doing burnouts.
A few individuals in the crowd responded by throwing rocks and bottles at the police before pushing through the crowds and running away.
A video of Speigle using his taser on a man who called him a “pussy,” surfaced over the weekend and quickly went viral, receiving coverage from eBaums World and World Star Hip Hop. The victim, Jeffrey Yanez, was thrown to the ground and assaulted by multiple officers, before being released without any charges.
Similar scenes continued to play out on Saturday night as the crowds battled with police for control of the streets. As the sun went down, the more rebellious attendees set off fireworks in the middle of some streets. It is unclear whether it was intentional or by accident, but the fireworks served as distractions, giving cars down the road a few minutes of space to pull off their unauthorized maneuvers.
The streets were also filled with hundreds of people wearing banana suits, a tradition that has grown in recent years. In one video, a police car can be seen stopping just before hitting a line of banana people.
One tourist was seen being run over by a police horse while walking in the middle of a crosswalk.
On Sunday, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan gave a press conference condemning the event and demanding that they stay out of the city in the future. Meehan has threatened to declare a state of emergency during H2oi weekend next year, which could give the police unprecedented powers.
“What took place this past weekend in Ocean City can never happen again. This group came to town with the sole purpose to raise havoc in our community, to disrupt our lives and defy law enforcement,” Meehan said in a statement.
However, H2oi attendees say that they can’t wait to come back next year, and many of their cars were decorated with messages taunting the local police. Many of the messages were displayed on the cars using painter’s tape, and said things like “Free meth at OCPD,” or “F*ck OCPD,” although there was at least one vehicle owner who put in a lot of extra effort.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Street Weapons owner Jason McDonald explained the history of the rivalry between the Ocean City police and the East Coast car culture, saying that years of harassment and “ridiculous tickets” has pushed many people over the edge.
There is no doubt that dangerous things take place during this weekend, but if H2oi attendees had a safe area to do tricks with their cars, it would be easier to keep this type of activity off of the city streets. Once again, prohibition creates unintended consequences that make banned activities even more dangerous and costly.
The professionally edited after-video below shows some of the most intense moments from the weekend.