By Matt Hubbard
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
OCEAN CITY — A Worcester County state legislator is pushing for a hate crime bill that would reduce the danger police officers are subject to when covering big street events.
State Del. Wayne Hartman, a Republican, said if the bill is passed, anyone who attacks a first responder could be charged with a hate crime.
Hartman said he felt the bill was needed after witnessing police officers being attacked during an illegal car gathering event known as H20i that occurs annually on the last weekend of September in Ocean City. The event is notorious for the destruction, chaos, and police presence it draws to Ocean City.
“After witnessing the way officers were treated during H20i for just wearing a badge, I knew this is the right thing to do,” said Hartman, who sat in the passenger seat in an attacked police car during a ride-along to witness what unfolds annually during the unsanctioned event.
“Without experiencing H20i, I do not think you can look at videos and understand the full intensity of the crowds that law enforcement has to deal with,” Hartman said.
Hartman represents roughly 40,000 people in Northern Worcester County, all of which rely on him to fix problems like H20i through methods like legislation.
Officers from Worcester County, Wicomico County, Maryland Natural Resources Police, Maryland State Police, and Queen Anne’s County were actively working to control the event from Sept. 24 to Sept. 28.
During this weekend two officers were injured by the chaotic crowds while dozens of other officers suffered less serious injuries from the thrown objects and physical encounters with attendees.
Over 200 arrests and 1,218 traffic stops were made during H20i in September. Ocean City residents like Samantha Burns think the city is moving in the right direction, but must take a stronger stance against the event.
“The cars do burnouts and create all types of smoke,” Burns said, “and it leaves heavy black tire marks on the street to the point where I can’t even see the lines.”
Burnouts are a common sight throughout H20i, but on Friday and Saturday nights the unsanctioned event stages street-long takeovers called burnout pits. Water is poured on the street to help tires lose traction. A driver then positions the vehicle in the puddle as attendees fill the area to watch. Within five to six seconds, a white cloud of tire smoke engulfs the block as attendees roar in applause.
“State and local governments invest a lot of money in paving the roads in Ocean City,” Hartman said, “so when the street markings are destroyed from burnouts, it is very expensive to fix.”
During the September 2020 event, a business called the Coffee Beanery became home to a burnout pit in the middle of the day. For hours, drivers did burnouts and even drifts over the parking spots outside of the establishment.
“The whole city should shut down,” Burns said. “If my work decides to shut down during this event, then this event shouldn’t get to go to any of our restaurants or shop at any of our stores.”