On Thursday, several plainclothes U.S. Park Police officers handcuffed and detained three African American teenagers for selling water on the National Mall without a license. Photos of the detention quickly spread across social media, provoking outrage among some who viewed the move as inappropriate and racially-motivated.
On Friday, D.C. councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs the council’s public safety committee, strongly condemned the Park Police’s action in a letter.
“While I understand the need to maintain consistency in permitted actions, I do not understand why the enforcement cannot take place with uniformed personnel and actions less severe than handcuffing individuals suspected of the sales,” Allen wrote. “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 in the same spot.”
According to the Washington Post, the teens were given a verbal warning and released without charges.
According to Sgt. Anna Rose of the U.S. Park Police, the teens were handcuffed “for the safety of the officers and of the individuals.”
The “fear defense” has been widely employed by police in a number of police brutality cases, where police have injured or shot and killed black men and women.
The teens were all between 16 and 17 years old. According to Rose, they told Park Police that they did not have the proper license to sell goods on the Mall, and were then handcuffed and detained. At least one teenager was photographed on the ground during the detention.
The detention was part of a U.S. Park Police effort to clamp down on illegal vendors, who sell goods on the mall without a vendor’s license.
“The actions and images speak beyond this one incident,” Allen wrote. “They are a reflection of who we are and the values we share. And I don’t believe the image of young African American men handcuffed on the ground for selling water is a reflection of my city.”
Temperatures in D.C. climbed into the high 80s on Thursday, a few degrees above the historical average for the area.