U.S. Park Police officers handcuffed a teenager and detained a second youth for attempting to sell bottles of water on the Mall this week, police officials acknowledged Friday.
The incident unfolded about 3 p.m. Tuesday near the intersection of Ninth Street and Constitution Avenue NW when a uniformed Park Police officer tried “to make contact with multiple individuals who were observed illegally selling water on the National Mall,” according to a statement released by the Park Police.
“As the officer approached to give warnings, the violators fled,” the statement said.
More officers joined the chase and soon stopped two people — who stated they were juveniles, police said — near the National Archives. Police said one of the two “failed to obey lawful commands and resisted, therefore was placed in handcuffs.”
Park Police were roundly criticized by city leaders earlier this summer after plainclothes officers handcuffed and detained two 17-year-olds and a 16-year-old for the same violation June 22. Police said the youths were accompanied by an adult who previously had been arrested for illegal vending, leading officers to believe they were dealing with an organized illegal vending ring rather than youths trying to earn a few dollars.
On Friday, Park Police Chief Robert MacLean said in a statement that officials have heard the community’s concerns about enforcement of vending violations and responded.
“In this incident, officers responded with a measured approach to ensure the safety of everyone involved. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism and strive to ensure that any contact with the public is tactful and considerate,” MacLean said.
On Tuesday, the two people were released shortly after being detained, the Park Police statement said.
They were given a verbal warning about the ban on vending on the Mall and a map showing the Park Service boundaries for the Mall.
D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs the public safety committee and criticized the Park Police in a letter to MacLean in June, said Friday that he again spoke to the chief about targeting young people just trying to make some cash.
“I’m concerned any time I see young people in handcuffs, especially young African Americans just trying to earn some money by selling water,” he said in a statement.
He said he had asked MacLean to “make every effort to keep our young people out of the justice system.” Allen said he wanted the chief to forge stronger ties to the community.
A passerby, Alyce Miller, 63, of Silver Spring, said she came upon the scene as she walked from a nearby Metro station amid passing tourists. In an interview, she said she saw police cars blocking a traffic lane.
As she approached the north corner of Ninth and Constitution, she saw two officers with what appeared to be two teenagers, one sitting on a sidewalk in handcuffs. They were flanked by shopping carts filled with bottled water. “It looked like an event, but it was just these two kids,” Miller said.
She said she felt growing anger. “There are much smarter ways to handle this,” she said.“I just see these kids as being really entrepreneurial.”
“What was stunning to me was that people were walking by thinking this is normal,” she added.
“I just don’t know why the cops just don’t say, ‘C’mon, guys, move along’ and let them go.”