National Action Network's Jackie Yeadon and James Johnson
While the city builds up a task force to re-evaluate the rules, the National Action Network is calling for a revamped permit process for young people who want to legally sell palmetto roses in Charleston's crowded tourist areas.
James Johnson, a local community organizer and the organization's state coordinator, called for parents to further involve themselves in the city's palmetto rose workshop and permitting process at a press conference outside of Charleston City Hall Thursday afternoon. Johnson says that parental participation will further understanding of what kids are and aren't allowed to do while selling their handmade crafts.
"We are asking the city of Charleston to put together a proposal, if a child under age wants to sell roses, the parents and the child have to have a one-hour class here at City Hall," he said. "That [makes] the parents responsible. We think that if kids are here selling roses illegally without a permit, they should be fined, but we don’t want to set these kids up for failure in the future."
Johnson was joined by NAN South Carolina director of operations Jackie Yeadon.
Palmetto roses are made by folding the fronds of a palmetto tree to resemble flowers.
Children must already receive a "parent's signed consent on the permit application," according to the city website
describing the City of Charleston’s Youth Palmetto Art and Business Program.
During the school year, the permit process requires kids ages nine to 16 to attend one-hour workshops for four days after school, according to city spokesperson Cameron Wolfsen. During the summer, the material can be covered in half a day. Children are allowed to sell at the Aquarium Wharf, Market Street, the U.S. Custom House, and Waterfront Park.
Parents are not required to sit in on the sessions.
Selling palmetto roses without a permit is a violation of City Code 17-109. The ordinance was passed by City Council in 2007, according to a city press release. There are 31 kids currently enrolled in the palmetto rose program.
Ruth Jordan, the city's new women and minority business enterprise manager, says that complaints from tourists, residents, business owners, and even the youth program's participants have forced the city to consider re-evaluating the palmetto rose ordinance over the past six months.
"We've been looking at it for a while, but now we are going to be putting together a broader task force to address some of the issues with our existing program, and to try to tweak some of the problems we've been having with our unlicensed palmetto rose peddlers," Jordan said in a phone interview with CP
Complaints range from business owners who find the young sellers to be a nuisance to younger sellers in the city's program who are sometimes bullied by unlicensed peddlers.
"They’ve overall been doing pretty well, however, we do have some of the older unlicensed peddlers who’ve been trying to muscle in on the turf of the licensed peddlers who have gone through our training biz camp," Jordan said.
The exact names of those who will be involved in the task force to re-evaluate the ordinance have not been released. Jordan says the group will include city staff, county and local government agencies, the county school district, and social services.
Concerns about the city's palmetto rose program have arisen after a 16-year-old was arrested and charged with illegally selling palmetto roses and resisting arrest following an altercation with a police officer near the City Market on Monday.
The family of the teenager, who is now being represented by S.C. Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, was not able to attend Thursday's press conference.
The arrest stirred controversy on social media as an example of laws and police tactics that target African-Americans, particularly black children.
"The child himself is very remorseful with what happened with the police officer," Johnson said at Thursday's press conference. "The mom did admit that the son made a mistake. We don’t wanna see the book thrown at that child. The child said he was more afraid than anything else."
Charleston City Councilman James Lewis, who represents parts of the peninsula and West Ashley, pointed out the strict rules governing the young entrepreneurs. The kids and teens in the city's program must attend a class with the permission of their parents, and they are assigned badges, T-shirts, and notified of the designated locations where they can conduct business.
"I've talked to the chairman of the Recreation Commission, and we're gonna look at the ordinance, and if we need to straighten it out, we will change it, but right now we just need to work with the parents and the kids to make sure that they're abiding by the rules," Lewis said to reporters after the press conference.
Both Johnson and Lewis said they have no problems with how the Charleston Police Department handled Monday's incident.
Activists, led by community activist Johnathan Thrower (who goes by Shakem Ahket) will hold a rally outside of City Hall on Sat. July 7 at 4 p.m. to protest the ordinance.