Former nuisance is coming up roses (copy)

Youths who finish the Palmetto Artisan Program earn a permit to sell their palmetto roses.

So, some folks want to abolish Charleston’s palmetto rose program — for the kids.

That’s their response to an incident this month in which one teenager selling the palm frond souvenirs scuffled with a police officer near the City Market. It was unfortunate; luckily, it wasn’t worse.

But Charleston branch NAACP president Dot Scott has a slightly different take than the protesters. She says the teen was wrong to get confrontational with police.

She’s absolutely right.

“We need to teach kids to follow the law,” Scott says. “It’s sad when kids get involved with law enforcement officers and bad things happen. We should encourage them to follow the law.”

Scott is thinking big-picture. What if this young man had been injured, or worse? That would’ve been tragic for him, his family and the community — and it would have brought unflattering national attention on Charleston and its police, even though the officer did nothing wrong.

As Scott says, if a law is unjust you don’t combat that by fighting with police — always a losing proposition. Instead, you take the fight to City Hall and get the law changed.

But in this case, Scott says even that isn’t the correct course of action.

A franchise

Charleston kids, predominately African-American youth, have been selling palmetto roses for years.

It’s a chance for them to make some money, maybe learn a bit about business. And honestly, these young entrepreneurs have become part of the city’s considerable culture.

As Post and Courier reporter Gregory Yee outlined, the city established the Palmetto Artisan Program more than a decade ago to supervise the palmetto rose salesmen and give them legal standing and places to sell their crafts.

Sure, one element of the program may have been an attempt to stem grousing about the competition from Market vendors, but the free program — which has been lauded nationally — also legalizes a practice that would be otherwise banned.

Hawking wares on Charleston streets is illegal, and that is a blessedly good thing for tourists and locals alike. Do we really want people selling knock-off Rolexes out of their trench coat on street corners?

If the city made it legal for anyone to sell anything anywhere, that’s exactly what would happen. A simple stroll would become one endless interruption. Talk about turning Charleston into New Orleans.

If the city repealed that ordinance, the kids wouldn’t make more money. They’d have their business undercut by adults selling knockoff roses.

Cutting off your nose

Scott says the Palmetto Artisan Program should not only continue, the city should ensure there are enough resources devoted to help these kids more.

“We need these opportunities for African-American kids and others,” she says.

Again, she’s right. And part of the expanded program could include a primer on a lesson most important to today’s youth: Don’t fight with the cops.

In the incident this month, the officer spotted two teens selling palmetto roses near the City Market — which the city doesn’t allow — several times over the course of two weeks. They continually evaded him by darting into traffic, and he wisely didn’t pursue them over a petty infraction.

When he walked up on them a few days later and said he was going to take them home to their parents (which is what police regularly do in these instances), one of the boys resisted. Moments later, the officer ended up on the ground with the kid on top of him.

It’s a testament to the officer that the situation didn’t escalate. That young man could’ve gotten hurt or killed, ruined a police officer’s life and caused more trouble for Charleston. No souvenir, or a few bucks, is worth that.

Hopefully, Scott’s perspective on this issue will prevail. She’s part of a group of citizens and local officials studying the palmetto rose program for ways to improve it.

It’s a much better solution than simply abolishing it. That would make those kids outlaws, and repealing the ordinance against street sales would annoy everyone in Charleston.

And it certainly wouldn’t help the palmetto rose kids.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.