Teens Handcuffed for Selling Bottled Water on National Mall Offered Jobs

WASHINGTON -- D.C.'s delegate to Congress said she met with U.S. Park Police over the handcuffing of three teens who were trying to make a buck selling bottled water to passers-by on the National Mall during this hot mid-Atlantic summer.

Two 17-year-old boys and one 16-year-old boy were detained June 22 at 12th Street and Jefferson Drive NW shortly after 5 p.m. Sgt. Anna Rose said the teens, who told officers they didn't have a vendors' permit, were placed in handcuffs at the scene "for the safety of the officers and of the individuals."

D.C. Councilman Charles Allen, writing to Park Police Chief Robert MacLean last week, asked if the reaction would have been the same if cops were shutting down a "quaint" lemonade stand. "While still the same violation of selling a beverage without proper permits and licenses, I doubt we would have seen little girls in pigtails handcuffed on the ground," Allen wrote.

"The actions and images speak beyond this one incident. They are a reflection of who we are and the values we share," he added. "And I don't believe the image of young African-American men handcuffed on the ground for selling bottled water is a reflection of my city."

The teens were released to their guardians with a verbal warning, police said.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) met with MacLean to discuss the incident "and ways to prevent the handcuffing of juveniles in the future."

"Chief MacLean said that the Park Police recognize that juveniles’ encounters with police have long and lasting impacts on their lives," Norton said in a statement after the meeting. "Chief MacLean said he and others in the chain of command will remind his officers at roll call that they have great discretion when dealing with juveniles and others who are caught vending illegally on the Mall. I stressed to him that verbal warnings should be used whenever possible, particularly for first-time offenders, who may not be aware of the prohibition on vending. Of course, we both want to protect the National Mall from degradation by unlicensed vending, but it is critical the Park Police uses appropriate action to confront it and prevent what happened last week from occurring again."

Norton said the Park Police's invaluable service "mitigating crime around parks" in the District, "not the incident of June 22," should "define the Park Police."

"Chief MacLean wants to use that incident to further inform their juvenile policy and improve their encounters with young people in the District," she added.

The Maryland teens, meanwhile, have all scored summer jobs from an employer who was bothered by the story and was impressed with their entrepreneurship.

Raymond Bell, the founder of the HOPE Project, which trains high-school graduates in information technology, saw the report and was able to locate the teens' parents; one of the mothers had already inquired about the program in the past, he said.

"I really want them to leave with a technical certification," Bell said. "I want to really fuel their entrepreneurial ambitions. They're going back to high school in the fall, but I want them to leave with a credential, with some skills that could be an income generator."

Allen's office has also received job offers for the teens.