Pols, advocates denounce another vendor arrest
by Benjamin Fang
Nov 19, 2019 | 1137 views | 0 0 comments | 87 87 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last Monday, as advocates were rallying in support of a churro vendor who was handcuffed and fined by the NYPD at Broadway Junction, another churro seller was getting detained at the same time.

According to reports, Maria Currilo was handcuffed and given a summons for illegally selling churros at the Myrtle-Wyckoff L and M train station in Bushwick.

According to State Senator Julia Salazar, the churro crackdown was conducted by officers from Transit District 33, the same office whose cops confiscated the sweet treats at Broadway Junction.

The second incident led to another rally last Wednesday in support of churro vendors who are being “criminalized,” Salazar said.

“For officers to target someone who’s just trying to make a living, minding their own business and selling churros,” she said, “it’s unacceptable.”

Like at last Monday’s rally, elected officials and advocates called on Governor Andrew Cuomo scrap a pland to add 500 new transit officers to police the subways.

Cuomo announced the hiring of the new cops in June to combat lost revenue from fare evasion, as well as a reported uptick in assault on transit workers.

The move will cost the MTA $249 million, which the Riders Alliance said should be used instead on more frequent and reliable public transit service.

“New Yorkers are much more interested in getting to work and home on time,” said Danny Pearlstein, the group’s policy and communications director, in a statement, “than in hiring police when crime in the city and on transit is near record lows.”

Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who co-hosted the rally at Myrtle-Wyckoff, said state and city government have both failed New Yorkers when it comes to transit.

But rather than being accountable, both the mayor and governor have blamed the poor for the transit system’s woes, he said.

“The churro ladies are not causing harm in our streets,” he said. “The churro vendors are more synonymous with New York, and more in our subway system, than Cuomo and de Blasio.”

Reynoso added that the City Council has taken too long to pass legislation to raise the cap on permits for street vendors. He said he wants to “get back” to the conversation.

Salazar is also supportive of state legislation, introduced by State Senator Jessica Ramos, to eliminate the cap on vending permits altogether. She said it’s “virtually impossible” for vendors to get a permit now because the regulations are outdated.

“Many vendors have to rent out, at exorbitant prices, another person’s permit that isn’t even being used,” Salazar said.

Ramos said the permit caps are “hindering the entrepreneurial spirit” of people of color and immigrants who “deserve to make an honest living.”

She said vendors are willing to go through inspections, abide by regulations and contribute to sales tax coffers if their activity is legalized.

“We don’t want the NYPD to knock the hustle,” Ramos said. “As long as they’re earning an honest dollar, our mamas and abuelitas are to be left alone and respected.”

According to Ramos, roughly 3,000 permanent permits and 2,000 seasonal permits have been issued, but 2,500 vendors are on the waiting list. Roughly 10,000 unpermitted vendors sell on city streets today.

“Our people know what they’re doing, it’s why they do what they do for a living,” she added. “All they need is to make sure that the cap is lifted so our folks can make a living and keep dreaming.”

Carmita, a churro vendor who spoke in Spanish at the rally, said she was fined in 2007 and again in 2010 for selling without a permit. She said she’s “constantly getting harassed” by the NYPD.

“The harassment that’s happening is making it untenable for her to be able to continue to sell churros,” Reynoso said in translation. “We’re talking about getting fines on top of fines that have accumulated to thousands of dollars.”

Robert Camacho, chair of Brooklyn Community Board 4, called it a “damn shame” that the city is ticketing people just for trying to sell food to care for their families.

“What are you going to do next, arrest somebody for collecting a five-cent bottle?” he said. “We should allow them to work and make money and take care of their kids.”

He said around the corner from the station, the MTA has a vacant commercial space that has been sitting empty. Camacho called for the MTA to rent the spot, and for the city to give the churro vendors a license to sell.

“We’re going to keep fighting this because it’s unacceptable,” he said. “Whoever is pulling the strings to harass these people, we’re there to make sure they won’t be harassed.”

The following day at an unrelated event, Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the MTA to establish vendor zones at train stations to help alleviate the problem.

“The underlying reality is that if someone wants to sell something in the subway, I would call upon the MTA to delineate spaces where they can do that,” he said. “Not a place where it’s going to jam everything up and make it impossible for people to move in and out.”

The mayor added that the Department of Health would have to look at vendors’ food before they sell as well.

As for city legislation lifting the cap on permits, de Blasio reiterated that he’s in support of it with stipulations. He wants the city to address the “black market” with tighter enforcement, as well as geographical zones so street vendors don’t hurt struggling brick-and-mortar stores, he said.

While de Blasio has defended the officers who detained the churro vendors in Brooklyn –– under the current rules, the cops were doing their jobs –– he said it should not “come down to a situation where we need to use arrest.”

“We should try a lot of other tools first,” he said. “We all know there are people selling in the subway, it’s not new, it’s been going on for generations. Let’s make sense of it.”
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