ATLANTA — It has become a common sight around the city of Atlanta — groups of boys selling bottled water at intersections of busy city roads.
Recently, some of those kids have started to get violent with drivers.
Now, several victims are calling on the mayor, Atlanta City Council and Atlanta Police Department to put a stop to what many are describing as a growing problem.
In an interview with Channel 2 Action News on Monday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms described some of the teens as “up-and-coming entrepreneurs.”
She’s even created an advisory committee that’s going to come up with possible solutions for the kids who want to continue selling water in a safe manner.
But Channel 2′s Michael Seiden has spoken with victims who say enough is enough and that it’s time to get the kids off the streets before someone gets killed.
Antoinette Stevens said she is still in pain following a frightening encounter with a group of teenagers selling bottled water on University Avenue in southwest Atlanta on Friday afternoon.
She still had the black eye to prove it.
"I gave him a couple dollars, and then all the other boys ran up to my car and were like 'Oh, give me a dollar. Give me some money,'" Stephens said.
That’s when she said one of the boys reached through her window and snatched her purse.
Stephens said she tried to chase after him, and another teen jumped into the driver's seat of her car and took off.
“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,” Stephens said.
She said that was when she hit the ground, leaving her with a black eye.
Stephens showed Seiden photos of her damaged BMW. She picked it up Sunday after spending several hours in the hospital.
And we’ve learned she’s not alone.
According to police reports obtained by Channel 2 Action News, since June 10, officers have investigated more than two dozen incidents, including three shootings and three other situations — where teens threatened people with guns, and there were many complaints of children running through traffic.
"I've come to the conclusion that we can do better for our kids here in the city than having them on the corner selling water," Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said.
Moore recently made her concerns public on Facebook after visiting several locations where she saw dozens of kids working the corners. She's calling for an immediate stop to street water sales.
Moore said right now, officers are being told to stand down.
"I have heard from police officers and supervisors that that was dictated from the mayor's office to not enforce any of the rules while this task force is working," Moore said.
But a Channel 2 Action News photojournalist recently captured a video of Atlanta police officers breaking up a large group of kids selling water in midtown.
Bottoms said the current situation is a major problem.
She believes change is needed, which is why she and the City Council formed a task force earlier this month. The goal is to come up with solutions for the children.
“You have some kids out there who have great entrepreneurial spirit, but clearly it’s not directed or harnessed,” Bottoms said.
For now, she has this message: “To parents, don’t allow your children to go out there. Please keep them off the corners in Atlanta. It’s not safe for them to be out.”
Kacey Venning is the executive director of the nonprofit Helping Empower Youth and is trying to help the kids.
“For the past two and a half to three months, we have been working with some of them only known as the Atlanta water boys,” Venning said.
She told Seiden that she and her organization are keeping watch over 20 boys between the ages of 14 and 19 who are seen selling water near Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Some of them are helping to take care of expenses at home. That means rent, utility bills, making sure there’s food on the table for the younger siblings because we are in the middle of a pandemic. It’s not as easy for them to go and get a part-time job,” Venning said.
She estimates that about 500 to 600 kids are selling water across the city.
Atlanta business owner Ryan Matalon said one of those water boys robbed him of $900.
“It’s lawlessness is what’s going on here right now. It’s crazy to think that we should give them the right to be able to walk around our cars at a red light,” Matalon said.
“At first, it was just, you know, some boys trying to make some money. But now I feel like they’re just opportunists, and they try to find women or somebody that looks vulnerable,” Stephens said.
The mayor’s task force is expected to make its recommendations by Friday.
Helping Empower Youth, the nonprofit that's helping the water boys, is trying to find a building where it can teach the kids how to set up a business, balance finances and set themselves up for success in the future.
To learn more about the organization, CLICK HERE.
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