Cityhood group to announce water-seller crackdown, youth program

Continuing a political focus on crime, the Buckhead City Committee says this week it will announce policies to deal with illegal water-selling in a press conference attended by the mother of a murdered seller.

Scheduled for Dec. 9, the announcement is aimed at so-called water boys, meaning children or young adults who sell bottled water on the streets to passers-by without a license. Water-selling became a hot-button crime issue last year as some used aggressive tactics or pulled guns in turf battles. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms urged tolerance while working on other ways to direct the young people’s entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, the commander of the Atlanta Police Department’s Buckhead-area Zone 2 precinct chose to ignore that policy and institute a crackdown that pushed some of the water-sellers out by later in the year.

Bottoms created an advisory council on the issue that produced a carrot-and-stick approach that continued to include enforcement but focused on alternative programs that could entice the sellers with similar pay — $100 to $300 a day. The “Buckhead Security Plan” developed by the Buckhead Coalition, Buckhead Community Improvement District and other organizations late that year had some similar aspects of zero-tolerance policing and a boost to youth programming.

The BCC’s plan echoes those approaches, saying the new city would crack down on water-selling while partnering with a nonprofit called the Prison Doc on mentorship and entrepreneurship programs. A press release about the pending announcement did not mention those previous City and private policies.

Prison Doc is a Dacula-based nonprofit, according to state records. It is headed by Myron Fountaine, according to the BCC and a GoFundMe fundraiser. (His name is spelled “Fountain” in the state records.) The nonprofit was registered here last year and was previously registered in Michigan, according to state records there. Its website is under construction and an email was returned as undeliverable. Its leader could not immediately be reached through a GoFundMe page.

Backing the effort, according to the press release, is Tomeka Pless, whose 18-year-old son Jalanni was shot to death last year while selling water, reportedly by another seller in a turf dispute and argument over $10. A 16-year-old boy was charged in the killing. Tomeka Pless started an online petition calling for a law to “ban” water-selling to head off such killings. The water-selling is in fact already illegal, but the question has been how to effectively manage or enforce that.

Pless could not immediately be reached for comment. She is quoted in the BCC press release as saying, “They took all of me when they took him. We must do what’s right, put a stop to this and make a change.”

Advocacy for specific crime victims has been another hallmark of BCC campaigning. The victims of a 2020 street attack have appeared at BCC’s headquarters ribbon-cutting and at a state Senate committee hearing about its effort, and the BCC has aided their fight to see the case prosecuted as a hate crime.

“Ms. Pless contacted Buckhead City for help after the City of Atlanta ignored her calls,” the press release says.

“Once lawfully created, Buckhead City will ban water boys and prosecute those who break the rules,” said Bill White, the BCC chairman and CEO, in the press release. “In the meantime, we’re proud to support Tomeka’s efforts and ask everyone who lives, works or visits inside Buckhead City’s borders to sign the petition. The unchecked violence, stealing and harassment must stop.”

Update: This story has been updated with further information about the name of the Prison Doc’s leader.