It’s never ideal when an interaction between civilians and the police gets physical. It’s even less ideal when the civilian in question is a teenager, and the alleged offense — selling palmetto roses without a permit — is not exactly an imminent public threat.
But by most indications, the encounter between a Charleston police officer and a 16-year-old youth near the City Market earlier this month ended about as well as could be hoped for. Nobody was seriously hurt and the young man was arrested but not charged with a serious crime.
Again, it’s not ideal. But it could have been much worse. And fortunately, this appears to be the first time things have gotten so out of hand in the roughly 10 years the Palmetto Artisan Program, which helps organize and train young people to sell handmade palmetto roses, has been in place.
Still, it’s worth city officials’ time and effort to analyze just how effective the program has been, and how it can be even better. To look into the issue, a task force is being formed, headed up by Ruth Jordan, manager of the city’s Minority Business Enterprise Office.
Obviously, the task force needs to make sure that Charleston police handled the situation appropriately. So far, it appears that the officer involved did his job well and kept a tense situation from escalating into a more dangerous incident.
But the more important concern should be how to make the Palmetto Artisan Program not just a way to help downtown kids make a few extra bucks, but how to train the next generation of entrepreneurs.
It’s critical that Ms. Jordan will be heading up the effort. Most of the palmetto rose program’s participants are black. And given the troubling lack of minority-owned businesses in a city with a substantial black population, the Palmetto Artisan Program should be an opportunity to teach real business skills that can translate into real-world success.
“We’re hoping we can expand entrepreneurial opportunities, and not just for the rose program, but for our older young people who have aged out,” explained Ms. Jordan.
Already, program participants must undergo a free weeklong business training course. That could be expanded to optional long-term training and mentorship programs with local business leaders. It could mean apprenticeships and scholarships.
It could be a lot more than palmetto roses.
“We want to work with our public schools and our business community to provide skill sets and opportunities,” said Ms. Jordan, who noted that she would like the city to help participants learn about financial skills like how to use a savings account. Some rose sellers can earn more than $300 a week, she said.
About 30 kids are enrolled in the Palmetto Artisan Program, according to a city spokesman. As many as 50 can participate at any given time. If all of those young people grew up to start small businesses, it would change the economic landscape of Charleston for the better.
City officials actually started looking into forming a task force on the rose program a few weeks before the Market Street incident. It was a good idea well before an unfortunate dust-up with the police. A serious conversation about boosting Charleston’s minority entrepreneurs is long overdue.