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'Stop handing $10 bills out the window' | Grieving mother, Buckhead leaders push to ban 'water boys'

Committee members ask residents to stop rolling down their windows for teens selling water on Atlanta streets.

ATLANTA — Leaders in Buckhead are pushing for a citywide ban on "water boys." Members of the Buckhead City Committee, alongside a grieving mother whose son was killed while selling water, made the plea outside of Buckhead City Headquarters on Thursday.

“Everybody in Atlanta – please stop rolling down your windows, stop handing $10 bills out the window – so we don’t ever have to stand here again with this horrible situation," said CEO and Chairman of Buckhead City Committee Bill White.

Tomeka Pless spoke at the press conference about her 18-year-old son, Jalanni, who was killed in June of 2020 while selling water on 8th street in Midtown. Over a year later, she is still trying to get justice for her son.

“I got a call at 10:22 saying he was laying shot, lifeless in midtown over $10 from selling a bottle of water," explained Pless.

Committee members announced that they would be backing the mother and her petition to ban the sale of water on Atlanta streets.

“It’s not just Jalani’s death, it’s other things that have happened after that; the young lady who was robbed, car was stolen, and her eye was black, the young man who was shot in his car," added Pless.

In the last year, Atlanta Police have reported multiple crimes in connection to the water sales including reports of children being hit while running in and out of traffic.  However, a youth mentoring group who's been working to help get these teens off of the streets said a ban is not the answer.

“It’s all about survival. That’s what we’re up against. So, banning the sell is not the answer. Creating programming that allows these young kids to come through and have some structure and some guidance with the support of these larger entities like the city and the school board is where we’ll see some positive traction," explained Kacey Venning, executive director of HEY! Helping Empower Youth.

Venning added that her program has been able to get about 25 teens off of the streets, but they only have enough man power to target the southwest Atlanta area.

The Buckhead City Committee said they are pledging to raise a quarter of a million dollars in 2022 to support the mentoring of these youth. Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms also started a program aimed at getting water boys off of the streets called "Hire Atlanta Youth Program."

Atlanta Mayor-elect Andre Dickens released the following statement Thursday:

"I am committed to working with the new city council to provide programming that gets the ‘water boys’ out of our intersections and into safe environments where they can learn technology and entrepreneurship skills that will make them productive members of our community. Putting more youth into the criminal justice system is not the solution. These young men and women need opportunities to thrive and we can accomplish that through job training, after school programs, entrepreneurship exposure, and apprenticeships.”

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