After weeks of debate over how teenagers sell palmetto roses downtown, the youth artisans now have a designated space at Charleston RiverDogs games thanks to a police officer.
Young sellers were recently given a table to display their crafts and greet people who enter the stadium. Activists who protested the city's practice of regulating palmetto rose sales say they're pleased about the new partnership with the Charleston Police Department.
Police Capt. Chip Searson, a special operations commander, suggested setting up the table at the ballpark. The effort to accommodate the youths comes after a confrontation between a teen and an officer that reignited discussion about an ordinance requiring sellers to complete a free training to get a permit. The ordinance also restricts where sellers may peddle their products, and for the most part, limits them to designated kiosks downtown.
In July, an officer tried to talk to a 16 year old in the City Market who had been selling roses in the area for weeks. The policeman had planned to cite the boy for a violation, not arrest him. But authorities said he ran, and a struggle ensued as the officer tried to detain him. A bystander pulled the boy off the policeman.
The teen was arrested on charges of resisting arrest and violating the palmetto rose ordinance.
"That brought this to a head," Searson said. "Personally, I’m not glad it happened, but I’m glad we finally got things moving."
Young people selling palmetto roses were previously the subject of complaints from visitors to the ballpark, Searson said. For that reason, he and RiverDogs President Dave Echols brainstormed the idea of bringing the youths inside the ballpark last year, but nothing came of it. They revisited the idea a few weeks ago.
The pilot initiative, which is separate from the city-operated Palmetto Artisan Program, allows three teenagers to work inside the stadium during game days.
Louis Smith, executive director of the Community Resource Center in Summerville, and local activist Johnathan Thrower will mentor the participants on communication and banking skills.
Smith said he'd previously seen youths selling palmetto roses outside of RiverDogs games. They were unorganized, and many people walked past them, he said.
"The narrative at that time was that these were bad children, don’t talk to them," Smith said. "And now ... the kids are out there, the people are smiling."
When the RiverDogs' season wraps up, Searson said he hopes to secure a spot for the artisans to work at Citadel football games.
The city is working on changing the language of signs that had discouraged the public from buying from “roaming peddlers,” which activists said was degrading.
Searson said the department has "kind of put a moratorium" on enforcing the palmetto rose ordinance until a task force, which is scheduled to meet Monday, decides how to move forward.
Meanwhile, he said welcoming the teens into RiverDogs' games is a win-win situation.
"It does me no good to chase them all over these parking lots trying to shoo them away," he said.