For at least the third time in a year, a police interaction with a black teenager over outdoor vaping laws has resulted in a violent confrontation, followed by an arrest and criminal charges. The latest example of extreme overreaction to vaping happened last Thursday in Atlanta, after a white police officer observed a black youth vaping in a city-owned skate park.
The officer advised 17-year-old Terion Forston that he wasn’t allowed to vape in the park, according to an Atlanta Police Department statement. The officer said Forston continued to vape and refused to show identification when asked. He then “physically resisted the officer’s efforts to detain him,” according to police.
But the available video (seen in the news report below) shows the youth posing no apparent threat to the female officer, who shoots him with the taser before any physical confrontation could occur. The first shot appears to have no effect. The second, however, brought Forston to the ground, and his legs began to involuntarily spasm as he sits on the concrete. As Forston sits on the ground reacting to the taser, the officer pushes him down then onto his stomach while repeatedly screaming at him to “get down.”
“He never once charged at her,” Forston’s aunt told Atlanta TV station WGCL. “He never once approached her. She was scared because he’s a big black dude.”
Forston was eventually handcuffed and arrested for disorderly conduct. He spent part of last Thursday in jail. Atlanta Police say the incident is still being investigated. In an unusual move, police publicly released the name of the minor suspect, but did not name the officer.
Videos of the incident posted to Twitter Friday have already been viewed 80,000 times.
Atlanta banned smoking in city parks in 2012. The law was amended in 2020 to include vaping, at the urging of Smokefree Atlanta, an organization whose partners include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, and American Lung Association—all of which promote bans and restrictions on vaping. Smokefree Atlanta’s address is the same as the American Cancer Society’s Atlanta office.
A similar incident occurred last summer on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland, when police decided to enforce that city’s public vaping ban. A 17-year-old black youth was tasered, and another was wrestled to the ground and repeatedly kneed in the ribs and abdomen by a police officer. Four Pennsylvania teenagers were arrested and charged with various crimes, including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and second degree assault.
Outdoor smoking and vaping bans are usually sold to the public as common-sense, pro-health laws. But there is no evidence that smoking or vaping in open-air situations could possibly pose a health risk to bystanders. The real reason groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids advocate for such bans is their belief that “denormalizing” smoking and vaping—stigmatizing vapers, portraying them as unhealthy outsiders with an unsavory “addiction”—will make the practice less attractive to adolescents.
Well-founded concerns that such laws will lead to unnecessary interactions with police—and violent incidents like the ones in Atlanta and Ocean City—are routinely brushed aside by anti-tobacco zealots like Tobacco-Free Kids. But when those interactions inevitably do happen, it is the vapers expected to “comply” with foolish and unjust laws, and the police tasked with enforcing them, who must live with the consequences of criminalizing nicotine use.