Mother of teen killed over $10 launches new effort to stop ‘water boys’ in Atlanta

ATLANTA — The mother of a murdered teen gunned down after a dispute over $10 has launched an online petition: To stop children and young adults from selling bottled water at busy intersections across Atlanta.

Tomeka Pless talked to Channel 2′s Michael Seiden about her 18-year-old son, Jalanni. The Douglas High School graduate was shot and killed over the summer.

Pless said her son was heading home when he and his friends were ambushed by the gunman. She said the accused shooter, a 16-year-old boy, who is behind bars charged with murder, targeted Jalanni following an argument over $10.

[RELATED: 18-year-old shot and killed off busy Midtown street after selling water, police say]

“The motorist decided to get the water from Jalanni and gave him $10. The suspect snapped $10 from Jalanni and said it was his money because Jalanni was in his territory. Jalanni snatched it back from him and said, ‘I understand where you’re coming from, I split the $10 with you.’ He did try to take it back from him and it tore. They got into a shoving match and the kids broke it up,” Pless said. “Thirty-four minutes later as Jalanni was walking home toward the train station, he guns him down.”

After the deadly shooting, Channel 2 Action News launched our own investigation taking a closer look at numerous violent incidents involving the so-called “water boys.”

That’s when we met Antoinette Stephens, who at the time was still recovering following a frightening encounter with a group of teenagers selling bottled water on University Avenue in southwest Atlanta.

“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.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and City Council President Felicia Moore have both voiced their concerns.

The mayor also instructed Atlanta police officers to step up their enforcement while the city works to find safer options for the children.

“Jalanni was ambitious. He was a hustler. There wasn’t nothing he couldn’t do if he put his mind to it,” Pless said.

That is the reason behind Pless’ decision to launch an online petition to put an end to what she describes as a “dangerous hustle.”

So far, she’s already seen a lot of support.

Her efforts have also gotten the attention of the popular Instagram account, “ATL Scoop,” which last week raised enough money to help her pay for a headstone to be placed at her son’s grave site.

“It’s overwhelming. very overwhelming,” Pless said.

Pless said she still can’t believe that her son is gone. In fact, she still has the ripped $10 bill that was in her son’s wallet the day he was killed.

Before his death, Jalanni was working a full-time job, applying to colleges and saving up to buy his first car. But his hopes and dreams are shattered because of a senseless act of gun violence.

Pless has said enough is enough. She’s hoping her son’s killer hears her cries for justice and understands her insurmountable heartache.

“You’re still here. Your godmother gets to see you. I have to go to the cemetery to see Jalanni and it’s not fair,” Pless said.

There has been help from several non profit organizations to help supervise the teens and help them with new opportunities.

One of those groups is the non profit HEY, which stands for Helping Empower Youth. The Executive Director Kacey Venning is trying to help these kids out by supervising them when they are selling water and teaching them how to save money and make good life choices.

Vennings said she’s hoping to be included in future conversations.

Pless said that although she respects what these groups are doing, she said it’s what’s happening when they aren’t being supervised and that’s why she wants this to end.

Comments on this article