Burbank police officers detained two young boys this week for allegedly selling chocolate without a permit.
A video recorded by West Hollywood resident Amanda Smith and shared with the Leader shows the two children, who are Black, sitting on a curb while being questioned by officers in front of the Target at the Burbank Empire Center shopping complex on Tuesday. The officers ask the children for their names and the location of their parents, and tell them they can’t return to sell the chocolate unless they have a permit.
Early in the roughly three-minute video, an officer picks up a box and disappears with it behind the police vehicle. She soon returns from behind the car, empty-handed.
“You’re taking my chocolates?” one of the children says in the video.
“Yup,” the officer replies. She later explains the box will be taken into evidence, and that the pair can collect it from the police station.
Information from the Burbank Police Department was limited because the incident involves juveniles, but Sgt. Emil Brimway said the incident “was documented in a police report and is under investigation.”
Sales of such products are often a fundraising method for schools and various youth-related organizations, causing some onlookers to suggest the two children depicted in the video were singled out or treated too harshly.
However, while responding to the Leader, Brimway emailed a link to a 2008 ABC News article warning about “candy rings” in which adults exploit young children by having them sell candy for fake organizations or causes and then pocket most of the earnings. Brimway said he could not disclose whether police believe the two children may have been involved in a similar situation, since the investigation remains ongoing and involves juveniles.
He also said local law requires people selling products in the city to have a permit.
Brimway added that Empire Center security contacted the BPD regarding the two children, whom security described as 7 and 9 years old and were allegedly walking up to cars to sell candy, at about 3:40 p.m. on Tuesday. In the video provided by Smith, the boys give different ages; the younger says he’s 11 while the older says he’s a teenager — the exact age given is inaudible in the video.
A spokesperson for Tiarna Real Estate Services, which manages the Empire Center property, declined to comment, citing company policy.
Smith, who was leaving the Empire Center when she saw the children on the curb, doesn’t believe the kids were involved in a scam. She said that after she stopped recording, police met a man who said he was in charge of the boys’ sales, wrote down his name and informed him where he could retrieve the box of chocolates. The children were then allowed to leave, Smith said, about 10 minutes after she first saw the kids being questioned. Another police vehicle also arrived while the children were detained, she added, bringing an additional two officers who stood near her and others who were watching.
“It just seemed like a huge waste of everyone’s time and an unnecessary thing to subject the kids to,” Smith said.
During last summer’s national conversation about police interactions with Black men and women, the experience of being detained by officers over seemingly insignificant or relatively unimportant matters was a talking point Black activists often raised.
Los Angeles resident Bishop Brooks, who is African American, also witnessed the incident. He said he was frustrated that the police had detained the boys, particularly since the curb they were sitting on was unshielded from the sun on a hot day.
Like Smith, he also doesn’t think that the children were involved in a scam, and added that he was impressed that they were selling candy — something he said he used to do when he was younger.
If the kids weren’t Black, Brooks believes, the police would have let them go with a quick warning.
“I’m 100% sure [race is] the reason they had them on the ground and for taking their candy for evidence,” he said.
The Leader was unable to identify the children’s parents and request an interview with them. Smith said one of the officers used the phone of one of the boys to contact his parent.
Burbank Councilman Konstantine Anthony, to whom Smith also sent the video, told the Leader that he had passed it on to the city manager.