By Barney Blakeney
Charleston officials last week held the first meeting of the Palmetto Rose Panel established after the July 2 arrest of a 16-year-old youth involved in an altercation with a police officer trying to arrest him for illegally selling the handcrafted art. The incident escalated when the youth tried to run and the officer tried to stop him. The two got into a scuffle ending with the teen on top of the officer prompting citizens to intervene.
The sale of the roses handmade from palmetto fronds by Black youths has been a controversial subject. Some residents complain that children and others vandalize palmetto trees on their properties to get the material for the roses and that some youths are disrespectful when potential customers refuse to buy the product. Some merchants say those youths are bad for business because they intimidate tourists.
The city responded by creating a program that permits youths ages 9-16 to sell the roses either at the Charleston Aquarium, Waterfront Park or at the U.S. Customs House. Participants in the program wear a special shirt and carry a visible permit card. The July 2 arrest brought the controversy to a head.
Since the youth’s arrest, community activist Louis Smith has been among a group protesting the city’s handling of the controversy. Smith and others say the city’s program isn’t working because scores of kids make and sell the roses at various locations around the city, but only about 30 participate in the city’s program. A more viable program could be a tool plugging up the school to prison pipeline, Smith said, but city officials aren’t thinking outside the box.
“Those kids are smart. Some of them are helping their families,” said Smith. “Sure there are some bad ones. They’ve developed their own rules. For them it’s about survival, but they need help. They need guidance.”
Ruth Jordan, panel chair and Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office manager, said the panel hopes to provide that help. At last week’s, meeting four work groups were created, each with a responsibility either to mentor and train, collaborate with residents and businesses, explore employment and job opportunities or to develop city ordinances and enforcement actions. She expects the groups to return with some definitive recommendations by the year’s end. In the meantime, the city’s program will operate as usual conducting monthly training sessions for youths. She explained the city’s regulations only apply to youths selling the roses on public property.
For information about the city’s program, contact Crystal Reed with the Charleston Recreation Dept. at (843) 579-7525.