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Legal tactics against Atlanta’s ‘water boys’ could include banishment, targeting parents

A stock photo of a court gavel. (Photo by the Tingey Injury Law Firm via Unsplash.)

By John Ruch

Police and prosecutors are discussing new crackdown tactics on Atlanta’s so-called “water boys,” including banishment and targeting of parents and guardians.

The discussions were described by Atlanta Police Department (APD) Maj. Andrew Senzer, commander of Buckhead’s Zone 2 precinct, at a March 1 meeting of Neighborhood Planning Unit B. He focused on Buckhead, but the policies and tactics presumably would apply citywide. APD and the Fulton County District Attorney’s office did not respond to comment requests.

The water boys are young people who illegally sell bottled water on street corners. The practice has been highly controversial since a boom in 2020. City officials generally describe the water-sellers as misdirected entrepreneurs whose illicit activity sometimes leads to violent turf battles and aggressive sales tactics.

Former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took a tolerant and measured approach with an advisory council that last year recommended a mix of law enforcement and entrepreneurship programs. Zone 2 officers largely ignored the tolerance policy, instead cracking down on water-sellers after incidents where firearms were brandished.

Last year is also when the Buckhead cityhood movement took off, fueled by crime fears. The pro-cityhood Buckhead City Committee seized on the water-sellers topic with the announcement of an unsubstantiated quarter-million-dollar fundraising campaign for a youth mentoring nonprofit.

Senzer said at the NPU meeting that about 25 water-sellers are currently active in Buckhead’s hot spot around Lenox Square and said officers have made 15 arrests related to their activity so far this year. He said one Zone 2 officer has “developed a rapport with these individuals” and created a database of them so she “knows everyone who’s out there.”

He said APD is talking with the District Attorney’s Office and Georgia juvenile justice system officials about post-arrest and investigative tactics. Part of that is ensuring that prosecutors know a citation for “pedestrian in the roadway” related to water-selling is more than just a minor jaywalking case.

But, Senzer added, the DA’s office “has agreed to look at banishment for offenders,” possibly from Buckhead’s entire hot spot in the area roughly bounded by Ga. 400 and Lenox and Piedmont roads.

Also on the table, he said, is seizing cell phones of arrestees to search them for contacts because “we know the parents and guardians are complicit to some extent” and being able to charge them as well “might be a game-changer for us.”

At the same NPU meeting, Senzer also discussed Buckhead’s crime rate and the citywide plague of guns stolen from vehicles.

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4 Comments

  1. Nick March 12, 2022 6:05 pm

    Punish entrepreneurialism!

    Street vending is just another dangerous, and unfortunate externality that society pays by continually funneling wealth into an increasingly smaller number of hands. Having ‘private’ cities, like… oh… say Buckhead City? Is another frivolous externality in the never-ending quest to emulate our idols.

    We should be punishing those who complain the loudest, they probably buy the most from these kids.

    We need to find a way to redirect their entrepreneurial energy to a societally beneficial source. Doug Shipman on Atlanta City Council has amazing ideas on this, I personally like this https://nicolasuppal.com/blog/f/urban-gardensReport

    Reply
  2. Simple Solution March 13, 2022 11:57 am

    Why not just relocate the water boys to the Eastside Beltline? No car traffic to worry about; lots of customers thirsty from walking; and neighborhoods that have vocally supported these young entrepreneurs operating in Buckhead. It’s a win-win-win situation, no?Report

    Reply
  3. Buckhead people are crazy March 15, 2022 11:31 am

    This is sick. Selling bottled water is a minor offense and a victimless “crime.” Talking about charging these kids or their parents with serious, life-altering criminal charges is completely twisted. I have no problem with what they’re doing and am always happy to give them a few bucks when I see one. If there is violence then yes, deal with that. But most water boys are peaceful and they should be left alone.Report

    Reply
  4. NL March 17, 2022 3:07 pm

    This is What Systemic Racism Looks Like. These young boys are obviously hard workers, entrepreneurs, and budding business talents. Why not cultivate that and put it use for society instead of demonizing and criticizing these kids! These same trifling “Law Makers” and politicians could be using this same amount of effort to create programs to polish and bring these kids in as interns to organizations likes Sales Force and Mail Chimp. Why not create summer camps to teach them how to run a business and do some thing less dangerous. Create Entrepreneur groups in these kids schools to keep them engage in business! However, since the vast majority of these water boys are Black, Male, and Poor our so called “leaders” are ready to discard them like drug dealing criminals. This is Disgusting!Report

    Reply

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