Via @timkrepp/Twitter

The U.S. Park Police has responded to questions about why three African American teenagers were handcuffed while selling water without a permit on the Mall in Washington, D.C. The answers are as hollow as one would expect.

According to Park Police Sgt. Anna Rose, undercover officers handcuffed the three teenagers, aged 16 and 17, “for the safety of the officers and of the individuals,” NBC 4 reported. Apparently, police consider teenagers selling water to tourists a threat—when they’re black, that is.

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The incident happened on Thursday and was photographed and shared on social media by passerby Tim Krepp, who pointed out that the kids were not issued a citation and the officers involved were undercover, not uniformed.

Krepp also tweeted:

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“Hey, how was work today, honey?”

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“Good. Got some scum off the streets.”

“What’d they do?”

“Sell water and be black.”

D.C. Council member Charles Allen demanded answers in a letter sent to U.S. Park Police Chief Robert MacLean on Friday, stating:

While I understand the need to maintain consistency in permitted actions, I do not understand why the enforcement cannot take place with uniformed personnel and actions less severe than handcuffing individuals suspected of sales. I can’t help but think how the reaction by these same officers might have varied if different children had set up a quaint hand–painted lemonade stand on the same spot. While the same violation of selling a beverage without proper permits and licenses, I doubt we would have seen little girls in pigtails handcuffed on the ground…

The actions and images speak beyond this one incident. They are a reflection of who we are and the values we share. And I don’t believe the image of young African–American me handcuffed on the ground for selling bottled water is a reflection of my city…

There were some poignant comments on Twitter in response, including the observation that officers likely handcuffed the teenagers in order to search them, hoping to find a better excuse to arrest them. Another observer pointed out that the undercover cops blew their cover over...bottled water. But it wasn’t really about the water, was it?