Doubtful we will return to Rehoboth after incident

August 7, 2020

The following letter was sent to the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners, with a copy submitted to the Cape Gazette for publication.

My family and I took our annual trip to the beach last week.  We usually go to Ocean City, Md., but this year we decided to try a different location.  We decided to try the Rehoboth Beach area because we wanted to try a beach with a smaller, hometown feel.

On Tuesday, July 14, we decided to go on the Boardwalk in the evening to play some games, eat ice cream and go shopping.  My wife and I were sitting on a bench and enjoying the view while my three children went into a shop.  A conversation between a police officer (wearing a blue and yellow shirt) and a tourist grabbed our attention.  

The police officer was asking the African-American tourist for ID because he did not have a mask on.  We quickly realized that this was more than just a discussion.  At that moment, approximately 25 percent of the people on the Boardwalk were not wearing masks.  What did this individual do that made him different?  The tourist was kindly trying to explain that he did not have any identification on him as the police officer’s tone and body language became more assertive. 

The tourist walked away from the police officer to return to his family on the beach.  The police officer pursued the individual onto the beach as he radioed for others to assist him.  I also followed and stood nearby to observe.

It was amazing how quickly this incident escalated.  Once on the beach, other family members became involved.  Two other officers wearing yellow and blue shirts showed up along with another police officer in a blue uniform.  The officer wearing the blue uniform appeared to be taking the lead.  At first, the family attempted to discuss the situation with the police officer, but they were obviously upset over what they perceived to be harassment especially as more police officers joined the situation.  Apparently the canopy that they brought onto the beach was a violation.  I am not sure about all the details, but found it interesting that it was an issue so late in the afternoon. Did it come up earlier in the day?

At this point, I decided to start videotaping the situation.  The situation went on for about another 7 minutes.  The incident became more heated due to one of the family members becoming verbally aggressive (this individual was not there when the incident started).  I thought that the police officers maintained a professional tone during this time.  What also caught my attention was that there were now over 10 police officers on the beach standing nearby.  Eventually, one of the police officers (wearing a blue uniform) deescalated the situation and the police officers started to move off the beach.  I returned to my family and explained what I observed.  We decided to continue our walk along the Boardwalk.  I found it interesting that one of the police officers (wearing a yellow and blue shirt) appeared to be following my family.  He followed us until we left the Boardwalk.  We  wondered what was the end result between the Rehoboth Police and this family.

As an observer, I do not have all the information, but was able to make some observations.  It appeared that the individual on the Boardwalk as well as this family were singled out for some reason.  It also seems like this incident could have been avoided if the Rehoboth Police had taken other action.  The incident seemed to be over a mask and possibly a canopy on the beach.  It is surprising that the Rehoboth Police felt that it was necessary to demonstrate such a show of force.  Lastly, it was disheartening to hear comments that were made by onlookers toward this African-American family.  

The end result for my family was some discussion about the incident, racial relations in America, and how to handle such a situation with the police.  The incident also makes us unlikely to return to Rehoboth Beach.

Glenn Del Favero
Columbia, Md.
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