Days after a teenager selling palmetto roses was arrested in a confrontation with a police officer, Charleston officials vowed Thursday to evaluate the program that helps youths get permits to sell the creations on downtown streets.
The city will assemble a task force that will include business owners, educators, tourism workers and city officials, said Ruth Jordan, manager of Charleston's Minority Business Enterprise Office. It is not clear how many people will participate, she said.
The move came amid a growing chorus of community members who have called for changes since the boy's arrest. Posts about the encounter have been widely shared on social media.
James Johnson, state president for the National Action Network, said during a news conference in front of City Hall that he would lobby officials to include parents and guardians in the training sessions for young people who sell the roses woven from palmetto fronds for a few dollars each.
While parents are not required to attend now, a guardian must sign a permission form, a city spokesman said.
"(We want to propose) that parents get involved with their kids selling roses,” Johnson said. “When the child and parent leave that ... class, the parent would know what their child can and cannot do.”
Jordan said she welcomed Johnson's input and would be open to the activist serving on the task force.
The development came on the heels of the encounter Monday, when a 16-year-old boy was arrested after a city police officer confronted him for not having a permit. The officer had tried to talk with the boy about the law after seeing him and other teens for weeks selling roses near the Charleston City Market, officials said.
Police said the boy tried to run away and fought when the officer tried to stop him. After the two fell to the ground, a passerby stepped in and pulled the boy off the policeman, authorities said.
The boy was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest and a city ordinance violation of illegally selling palmetto roses. He was taken to a juvenile detention center, where he was released Tuesday night.
The episode prompted debate about the Palmetto Artisan Program, which was started about a decade ago as a means to better supervise and regulate the activity.
A city ordinance states that in order to get a permit, palmetto rose sellers must take a free weeklong business training course, and wear a city-issued shirt while selling and display their certification badge. Sellers also are encouraged to sell from designated kiosks instead of peddling.
Children can be penalized for breaking the rules, but officials have insisted they are not heavy-handed. First-time offenders typically get a warning, but repeated violations can prompt a court summons. Officials say rules are designed for the children's own safety.
City Councilman James Lewis Jr., who represents part of the Charleston peninsula and serves as vice chairman of the Community Development Committee, said Thursday he agreed it is time to have a serious conversation about improving the program, which has struggled since its creation to attract participants.
He was skeptical of Johnson's suggestion.
"Some of these parents work. They're not going to come and sit in the class," Lewis said. "There are some things the parents just can't come to."
Jordan, the business office official, said parents also should be involved in supervising their children's work. The city has fielded past complaints about young sellers without permits being dropped off downtown and peddling for 10 hours a day.
"I don't believe we need to have kids out on the street unattended and unsupervised," she said.