Images of three African-American teens handcuffed by U.S. Park Police for selling bottled water on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., last week made its rounds on social media, sparking outrage among critics who saw the move as excessive and, perhaps, racially motivated.
The teens, all between the ages of 16 and 17 years old, were handcuffed and detained by three plainclothes police officers Thursday, June 22, for selling the bottled water without a license. Sgt. Anna Rose of the U.S. Park Police said the teens told police they did not have the proper permit required to sell goods on the Mall, after which all three were placed in handcuffs “for the safety of the officers and the individuals.”
An onlooker snapped several photos of the incident, one of which showed one of the teens sitting on the ground with his hands behind his back.
— ButTimKrepp (@timkrepp) June 22, 2017
This didn’t sit well with D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who penned a sharply worded letter to Police Chief Robert MacLean condemning the officers’ actions.
“While I understand the need to maintain consistency in permitted actions, I do not understand why the enforcement cannot take place with uniformed personnel and actions less severe than handcuffing individuals suspected of the sales,” Allen wrote on June 23. “I can’t help but think how the reaction by these same officers might have varied if different children had set up a quaint hand-painted lemonade stand in the same spot.”
“I observe any number of lemonade stands in these areas by neighborhood children,” he continued. “Should I warn the parents that their children are likely to be handcuffed and searched without the proper permits in hand?”
In a statement, the agency said the teenagers were let off with a warning about vending without a proper permit and released with no charges. The detainment was reportedly part of Park police’s effort to crack down on illegal vendors, but Allen argued that the situation could have been handled differently.
“The actions and images speak beyond this one incident,” he wrote. “They are a reflection of who we are and the values we share. And I do not believe the image of young African-American men handcuffed on the ground for selling water is a reflection of my city.
“We should be making every effort to divert young people from the juvenile justice system and improve their relationship with law enforcement.”