A Market in crisis
By Prioleau Alexander
Finally, someone caught the “Palmetto Rose Kids” on video.
Filmed by ABC News Channel 4, a video posted to YouTube shows exactly what Market Street vendors have been complaining about for years — the Rose Kids harassing businesspersons trying to ply their wares and services to Charleston visitors.
To say the video is shocking is a gross understatement: For four minutes viewers witness juveniles appearing less than 15 years old circling the street on the bikes, blocking traffic, verbally harassing and threatening the camera crew and businessowners, and ignoring the police officer — who did nothing more than plead with the juveniles get out of the street.
When one business owner exited his store with his hands clasped behind his back to ask the juveniles, “Where are your parents?” the police finally took action — by placing themselves between the businessman and the kids, seemingly to protect the juveniles from an adult asking a question.
Among the scenes the video shows is a juvenile, appearing to be in his early teens, approaching the stationary cameraman and saying, “Hey, you better get that camera out my face. [Expletive] y’all, [expletive].”
Another youth says, “[Expletive], get your [expletive] [expletive] camera out my face,” while extending his middle finger.
When I conducted interviews with Market Street vendors, few agreed to speak without the condition of anonymity. One vendor stated, “If you do something to these kids, you become a target.”
Clearly this is no idle exaggeration. ABC News Channel 4 recently reported on the assault of an adult male selling sweetgrass baskets, adding that “Charleston police say the basket weaver was assaulted by three juveniles who sell palmetto roses in the area — ages 11, 12 and 14.” One vendor in the market said he hasn’t seen the basket weaver since, and another added the assault resulted in a dislocated shoulder.
This assault comes ten months after the Rose Kids were filmed assaulting well-known journalist Quintin Washington. WCBD News 2 reported following the incident that the Charleston police “know many of the Rose Kids, and are working with school resource officers to keep them in school.”
The various interviews with Market vendors revealed more alarming facts, almost all of which included the lament that they have no recourse due to the age of the juveniles. “They’re untouchable,” one stated, “and they’re afraid of no one. Not even the cops.”
A carriage driver explained that not only do the Rose Kids throw things at the horses, they’ve learned the commands the drivers use. “For instance,” said the driver, “when we’re stopped at a light or a stop sign, the command we give to the horse to proceed is ‘step up.’ These kids will yell, ‘Step up!’ to the horse, trying to get it to walk out into traffic.”
Giovanni Radeglia, owner of Giovanni’s Pizza in the Rainbow Market, agreed to speak on the record, and he’s not pleased.
“The Rose Kids are wildly out of control,” he said, “One of them went into our private restroom and defecated in the trash can. They storm into my store ten at a time and harass my customers. They shook up a Sprite and sprayed it all over my dog — who does that?”
Mr. Radeglia went on to discuss the other issues plaguing the Market area. “At one point I had five homeless people living in the alley by my store — the police wouldn’t do anything, so I finally ran them off myself. After they left, I cleaned up five bags of trash along with human feces. What has the mayor done instead of dealing with these issues? Order some of his people to write $100 tickets to our visitors for not wearing masks. Our tourism industry was finally recovering after a year in a coma, and they were writing tickets up until April of this year. They came into my store, my private property, and wrote me a $100 ticket for not wearing a mask.”
One tour guide said, “The city’s Office of Cultural Affairs loves to call them artisans and say, ‘There are good Rose Kids and bad ones.’ Total lie. These kids are all part of a gang led by men in their late teens and early 20s. The police have caught them numerous times carrying deadly weapons — one told me he was going to ‘stick me.’ That’s when I got my Concealed Weapon Permit.”
One vendor explained that Market security guards have been ordered not to chase the kids, as there would be tremendous liability if one of them ran out into traffic and was struck. “I’ve seen the security guards be spit on,” he added.
An Anson Street resident stated, “We’ve locked our gate and put up a large Beware of Dog sign, but they just climb the fence, stand on our trash can and strip our palmetto tree. I won’t even let my kids ride their bikes on street where we live — I don’t know which of these lunatics have guns, and it isn’t worth the risk.”
I reached out to Charles Francis at the Charleston Police Department, who said I should call the city to speak to the head of the Rose Kids program — a program implemented by the City Recreation Department to teach children about business practices; upon graduation the program licenses them to sell palmetto roses in specific areas.
When I responded, “These kids aren’t part of the program,” Mr. Francis asked, “How do you know?” My response was, “The program doesn’t include juveniles blocking streets and businesses, harassing vendors and tourists and shouting, ‘F--- you,’ to anyone objecting to their behavior.”
When Mr. Francis asked if I could prove the allegations or if I’d personally seen these actions, I replied I’d seen the video and interviewed a half dozen vendors. His response was, “Words mean things. You have to substantiate your accusations.”
Mr. Francis recommended I to speak to a Lt. James Byrne, commander of this section of Charleston, and passed along my name and phone number.
I spoke at length with Lt. Byrne, who explained the challenges the police are facing. Among the issues is the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) system; because of the way the laws are written, when detaining juveniles the officer must then find their parents and return the child to them. If they cannot find the parents, the DJJ will rarely agree to take the suspect in; if they don’t, the officer must release them — a process that takes the officer off the street for two hours.
“We had a dangerous juvenile who’d been given a written trespass order to stay away from the Market, and we had photographic and video proof of him violating the order. When we sent the evidence to the DJJ, the judge refused to grant us permission to pick him up.”
Another common issue is the failure of victims to press charges. When tourists from out-of-town hear they will be required to return for a trial, the overwhelming majority drops the issue.
Lt. Byrne stated the volatile atmosphere regarding policing in America weighs on officers’ minds and referenced a case 2019, when an officer was detaining a very large juvenile “Rose Kid,” who attacked him. Their struggle was videoed and shortly thereafter appeared on CNN.
“Let there be no doubt,” said Lt. Byrne, “that we are giving 100 percent effort in finding and arresting rose peddlers who commit serious offenses — robbery, assault, auto theft — but then again we cannot do anything about the DJJ courtroom decisions. The kids who assaulted Quintin Washington were, I believe, required to participate in a diversionary program, and I believe there was required mentoring involved. We have no control over those decisions. Those kids were back in the Market immediately.”
He stated the juveniles involved in the latest assault were arrested, only to have the DJJ release them to their parents. This is another issue, as some of the parents are complicit in the juveniles’ activities and drop them off at the Market in the morning.
When asked about the officer in the video who appeared to do nothing to end the outrageous behavior, Lt. Byrne explained, “An officer has a lot on his mind in that situation. Profanity is free speech, and the kids didn’t touch anyone. On many occasions our officers have detained a juvenile only to find themselves surrounded by an angry mob. The chances of escalation are high, all over a misdemeanor. That’s why we’re focusing on criminal behavior.”
Many people in Charleston have accused the mayor and the chief of police of demanding the police back away from crimes that involved people of color.
“I’ve been hearing that since I took this job,” said Lt. Byrne, “and it isn’t true. I’ve never been given any such orders. Chief Luther has communicated the opposite message and urges us to enforce the law in all cases.
I sent an email to the city’s Recreation Department inquiring about the Rose Kids program. Their response was, “The city still has a program for children to apply for a Palmetto Artisan permit to sell roses. At this time, there are no children who are permitted through the city’s process.”
In the past year, Charleston has witnessed wholesale rioting, arson and looting on King Street. The popular tourist areas now host panhandlers on many corners, as well as up to half a dozen homeless sleeping during the day on Waterfront Park benches. Now we have juveniles under 15 running amuck, not only interfering with businesses but also assaulting residents.
What is the solution? After listening multiple perspectives, I see no easy solution, but the buck stops at the desks of the mayor and the chief of police.