ATLANTA — You’ve seen them on the streets of Atlanta, children and young adults selling bottles of water. For the first time, Channel 2 is hearing from some of the so-called water boys.
They told Channel 2′s Michael Seiden they don’t want to be lumped together with those threatening, attacking or even shooting potential customers.
“So, when y’all go out on jobs, y’all know what to do,” said KaCey Venning the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Helping Empower Youth or HEY.
She was talking to a group of Southwest Atlanta teens who haven’t graduated yet from high school. The teens are focused on staying out of trouble and making their dreams a reality.
“I want to be a lawyer, but I want to be a football player too,” said 16-year-old Quinton Hosch.
“I want to be my own CEO, entrepreneur,” said his 15-year-old brother Quamarius Hosch.
They are proud members of a group that calls themselves “Water Boyz in the Hood.”
“It’s been a journey. A whole bunch of good, positive stuff, trying to make us become better young men,” said Quinton Hosch.
Like hundreds of other teens, the two brothers spent their summer outside in the sweltering heat selling ice cold bottled water to drivers stopped on interstate exit ramps and at busy intersections.
“That’s the main focus of us selling water is for us to learn how to be entrepreneurs so, when we grow up, we don’t have to work for anyone. We can work for ourselves. We can be our own CEO,” said Quamarius Hosch.
The teens' entrepreneurial spirit is supported by HEY.
“Our goal is really to let young people know they have what they need in them. They just need trusted adults to help them tap into it,” said Venning.
She made the decision to welcome these teens into her home, helping them with their homework. She treats them like family.
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“I tell them all the time ‘I’m going to rock with you until you don’t want me to anymore.’ But that means we have to meet in the middle. There’s some growing and maturity on your end and there’s some understanding I need to do on my end and when we meet those two things, then we will be able to find a solution that works best for everybody,” said Venning.
Her vision for these teenagers' futures hit a speed bump earlier this summer when the City of Atlanta announced that selling bottled water without a permit was no longer allowed.
The decision came after a summer filled with hundreds of 911 calls including reports of water boys with guns threatening drivers, armed robberies, assaults and at least one deadly shooting involving an 18-year-old seller shot to death after getting into an argument with another water boy.
“None of the young men I work with I would classify as violent. It’s not about them being violent or aggressive. It’s about I have a goal that I need to meet and for some of them it’s about paying rent, helping, food, shoes, clothing the whole nine and so, it’s survival of the fittest is what we’ve seen,” said Venning.
In July, we first reported on Antoinette Stevens' terrifying encounter with a group of water boys who stole her purse. When she tried to chase after them, one of the teens took off in her car.
“I jumped through the window and tried to get my car, try to get him to stop, and he drove into oncoming traffic and crashed the car, and then ran,” Stevens at the time.
A Channel 2 producer filed an open records request and received dozens of emails and body camera footage that tell the story of Atlanta Police’s changing response to water boys.
In an email sent to command staff on April 20, 2020 responding officers are instructed to confiscate the water and charge the sellers with “vending without a permit on public property.”
On May 16, 2020 Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown emailed Atlanta police after he wrote he received “a ton of complaints from residents and activists about the attached video of officers arresting these two known water boys and the aggressive force that was being used.”
Channel 2 requested a copy of the body camera footage. It showed the moment police arrested Joshua Dixon and Quintez Dixon on West Lake Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive.
Responding to Brown’s concerns, a police major explained that officers warned the men that they had ten minutes to pack up their stuff and leave, but body camera footage shows the men refusing to listen.
The officer called for backup after the men walked into the street. Officers used force to get them under control.
After reviewing the video, investigators confirmed that the officers followed department policy when making the arrests.
Channel 2′s open records request also provided the first look at Atlanta police’s plan to crackdown on teens participating in the illegal activity. The goal was to reduce the number of 911 calls regarding illegal water sales this year compared to 2019.
Channel 2 also learned that from Jan. 1, 2020 to July 5, 2020 police responded to 694 calls regarding children and teens selling water to drivers. But 85% of those calls resulted in no action against the sellers.
The plan included beefing up patrols at Lenox Road between Peachtree Street and GA 400, Northside Drive between Ivan Allen and Joseph E. Boone, Martin Luther King Jr, Drive at the I-20 ramp, 17th Street between I-75/I-85 and Spring Street and University Avenue between I-75/I-85 and Pryor Road.
Police said they’re already seeing progress.
“You actually go and look at these intersections and you actually lay eyes on them, then you’ll see that our plan is actually working. We want our kids to win and that’s what we’re seeing and that’s what I can attribute a lot of the success to,” Maj. Reginald Moorman with the Atlanta Police Department said.
Despite the ban on the unpermitted water sales, Venning is still working hard to make sure these teens achieve their goals.
“If they don’t have the support that they need and the tools, then it’s going to be really difficult for some of them to succeed,” said Venning.
The water boys say they’re learning tools to help them stay on the path to success.
“How to talk to people. How to be respectful. How to hustle and get money,” said Quinton Hosch.
“I feel like if we hadn’t met KaCey working with her, I feel like all of us would’ve been locked up before already,” said Quamarius Hosch.