Teen's arrest for selling palmetto roses near City Market stirs controversy

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A police spokesman said the man wearing a blue shirt is likely a private citizen - PHOTO VIA SHAKEM AHKET/FACEBOOK

  • Photo via Shakem Ahket/Facebook

  • A police spokesman said the man wearing a blue shirt is likely a private citizen

A 16-year-old has been charged with illegally selling palmetto roses and resisting arrest after an officer confronted him and his friend for selling the folded palmetto fronds near the City Market.

According to a Charleston Police Department press release Tuesday afternoon, police had seen the teens for several weeks, but they would run away when confronted by police.

Officer Pierce White approached the teenagers at around 1:15 p.m. on Monday when one of them tried to run again. An altercation ensued between an officer and one of teens.

“The teen continued resisting and ended up on top of the officer,” according to the police department statement. “That’s when several witnesses pulled the teen off of the officer. The teen was then handcuffed and placed in the back of the officer’s cruiser.”

Police say both the teen and the officer were hurt during the struggle.

“Several witnesses approached and pulled the offender off [Responding Officer] and [Responding Officer] handcuffed the still-resisting Offender,” according to the CPD incident report of the arrest.

All officers involved in the arrest were uniformed, CPD spokesman Charles Francis told City Paper on Tuesday. The man in eyewitness photos who appears to be wearing a blue shirt and restraining the teenager is a private citizen who assisted in the arrest, according to Francis.

“We’re not going to release the civilian’s identity because it could endanger his safety,” he said.

The teenager was taken to the Juvenile Detention Center “where his release is being coordinated,” the police department said Tuesday afternoon.

S.C. Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, an attorney who represents Charleston and Dorchester counties, confirmed that he is in talks to represent the juvenile.

The arrest prompted several posts on social media decrying the practice of arresting minors for selling crafts without a permit. Photos taken by witnesses show the private citizen’s arm around the teenager’s upper body while pedestrians stand nearby.

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Officer seen taking a teenager selling palmetto roses into custody Monday. - PHOTO VIA ESTEE GABAY/FACEBOOK

  • Photo via Estee Gabay/Facebook

  • Officer seen taking a teenager selling palmetto roses into custody Monday.

Downtown resident Estee Gabay witnessed the arrest after leaving the Another Broken Egg Café. By the time she arrived, the teenager was already in handcuffs.

“He had the boy kind of in a chokehold,” she said in an interview with CP. “He had his arm around the kid’s neck and there was a police officer holding the kid’s hand behind his back in cuffs.”

She said she pulled out her phone to photograph the arrest after she saw how he was being restrained.

“He looked so uncomfortable,” she said. “I can’t image that that felt good.”

Gabay says she did not see the teen being uncooperative or behaving erratically. She said she did see a visibly upset woman shaking palmetto roses at him.

“In her hand, she was holding them, she was yelling at him, ‘You know that there’s rules!'” she recalls.

Selling palmetto roses without a permit is a violation of City Code 17-109. An ordinance requiring kids be enrolled a city program program in order to sell palmetto roses was passed by City Council in 2007, according to a city press release.

The city’s “Youth Palmetto Art and Business Program” requires kids between the ages of nine and 16 to apply for a permit, with consent of their parents, to sell palmetto roses in locations throughout the city. The permit is free, though it requires applicants to provide a headshot, a “statement indicating whether or not the applicant has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor,” and to attend a city orientation.

There are 31 kids enrolled in the program, according to city spokesman Jack O’Toole.

Charleston-area community organizer Johnathan Thrower, who goes by the name Shakem Ahket, thinks that the rules are unnecessarily cumbersome for children who are just trying to make a few extra bucks in their time off.

“This is another thing that people have to take into consideration: When these young children go and sell flowers, they’re not thinking about the process of going to City Hall and getting a permit,” Thrower said.

CPD says it is standard practice not to arrest kids or teens selling the roses.

“Consistent with CPD practice, the officer never intended to arrest the teen for violating city Code 17-109,” the report said. “He was going to take the teen home, release him into the custody of his parent or guardian with a court date for Family Court.”

“He didn’t chase these kids nor did he use excessive force in making the arrest,” said Charleston police chief Luther Reynolds in a statement. “The young man made the unfortunate decision to resist the officer and this entire situation could have been completely avoided had he cooperated with the officer.”

Thrower believes the rules specifically target Charleston’s black youth.

“I think it’s totally racist,” Thrower said. “This has been going on since I was little. Mostly, you would see poor black youth selling the roses to try to make money for candy, a snack, a soda.”

The incident report notes that the teenager had $81.25 in his possession, along with “several ‘palmetto roses.'”

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