This is what overpolicing looks like: Black teens handcuffed by undercover cops for selling water on a hot day

It's hard to imagine white kids with a lemonade stand being treated like this

D. Watkins
June 26, 2017 8:19PM (UTC)

A very disturbing image of a group of African-American teens handcuffed by undercover U.S. Park Police officers at the National Mall was circulated online over this past weekend. Their supposed offense? Selling cold waters on a hot day. Not selling or doing drugs, not robbing anyone, not damaging property. Selling cold waters on a hot day.

For me, there’s nothing more refreshing than a bottle of cold water, usually bought from a kid, on an 80-plus degree summer day. I don’t necessarily want to see kids out working in the heat, as I know how dangerous that can be, but I do love seeing our young people embrace entrepreneurship, personal responsibility and learning the basic fundamentals of running a successful business. With all of the bootstraping mumbo jumbo that Republicans spit out, children should be rewarded, not penalized, for wanting to make an honest buck, especially when African-American minors are unemployed at a disproportionate rate.


This reminds me of a common question thrown my way. “If young African Americans aren’t able to find employment in drug-infested neighborhoods and don’t have a family structure that provides for them, what should they do?”

I never say selling drugs is the answer, not even in the most desperate of situations, as my family knows the horrors that come with that industry from firsthand experience. I usually lay the blame on society's inability to address its racist systems, as well challenge the askers to show that they care by playing their part in changing those narratives.

But what about those kids handcuffed on the mall? They may not be aware of the statistics that prove growing up black is difficult, but I’m sure they are aware of the reality.

They know that wearing black skin comes with guaranteed pain. They know their American experience will be different from that of people of other races and ethnic groups, and they know that calling the cops to protect them is no-no. Why call the police when they keep shooting us?

I’m sure that if three white kids were selling lemonade, those same officers would have bought cold glasses for every other cop patrolling the park that day. There would be no cuffs on, no talk of jail, just a cold drink and a “you little businesspeople, have a swell day!”

The young men were eventually released without charges. I hope this ridiculous incident doesn’t stop them from pushing to make money in a positive way. But why were the police so eager to punish this in the first place?


D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America” and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir." His latest book, "We Speak For Ourselves: A Word From Forgotten Black America," is out now.

MORE FROM D. WatkinsFOLLOW @dwatkinsworld

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

National Mall Overpolicing Race Racism U.s. Park Police

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