WASHINGTON — D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton says the U.S. Park Police is reminding officers they have “great discretion” when dealing with illegal vending on the National Mall after a photo of three black teens handcuffed for selling water last week sparked outrage on social media.
Holmes Norton, a Democrat, met with Park Police Chief Robert MacLean Thursday to discuss the June 22 incident in which two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old were handcuffed and detained by plainclothes undercover Park Police officers for selling bottled water without a permit.
“I stressed to him that verbal warnings should be used whenever possible, particularly for first-time offenders, who may not be aware of the prohibition on vending,” she said in a statement Thursday.
A Park Police spokeswoman said in a statement last week the teens were handcuffed “for the safety of the officers and of the individuals” and that the teens were eventually let off with a warning.
Holmes Norton said MacLean told her that he and others in the chain of command would remind officers at roll call that they can use discretion when responding to illegal vending.
D.C. Council Member Charles Allen told WTOP he also wants to see the Park Police examine its policies for using plainclothes officers.
“The idea behind undercover sting operations for bottled water just doesn’t make sense,” said Allen, a Democrat who represents Ward 6. “It doesn’t square in my mind. I think that what we want to see our police be able to do in a situation like that is, really, just to have an upfront, uniformed officer explain the rules, be able to resolve that situation without having to put folks in handcuffs … That’s not who we are, and the damage that gets done to those young people is pretty significant. And it can’t just be wiped away by saying, ‘Well, but we ended up not charging them with a crime.'”
In a letter to the Park Police last week, Allen said he didn’t think the teens were treated fairly.
“I can’t help but think how the reaction by these same officers might have varied if different children had set up a quaint hand-painted lemonade stand on the same spot,” he said in the letter, adding: “I doubt we would have seen little girls in pigtails handcuffed on the ground.”
A bystander took photos of the handcuffed teens and tweeted it out. The original images have since been retweeted more than 16,000 times.
— Tim Krepp (@timkrepp) June 22, 2017
“I think that the one outcome of this that has been very productive is that I’ve had an outpouring of people that have reached out to my office wanting to track down these three young men and offer them internships, offer them jobs,” Allen said.
Two of the young men who were handcuffed have landed summer jobs through an IT training program called the H.O.P.E. Project, WJLA reported this week.
WTOP’s John Aaron contributed to this report.