East New York

Arrest of subway churro vendor sparks pushback against subway policing

“They give us tickets and they kick us out like an animal.”

November 12, 2019 Paul Frangipane
Elsa, a churro vendor at the Broadway Junction subway station, was detained Friday night and her food cart was taken by police. Eagle photos by Paul Frangipane

After a woman selling churros was arrested at the Broadway Junction station on Friday night, advocates are demanding the city curb what they describe as overly zealous policing of the subway system — starting with the way it deals with vendor permits.

A viral video that New York City resident Sofia Newman posted on Twitter early Saturday morning brought to light an issue that occurs regularly in train stations across the city: NYPD officers arresting unlicensed food vendors. The video shows four officers from the 33rd Transit District threatening a woman with confiscation of her churro stand and a fine. When she refused, she was escorted in handcuffs to the station office and her stand was taken from her. Local officials, advocates and street vendors crowded the entrance to the subway station on Monday afternoon to protest.

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“I feel horrible, I feel very nervous and stressed,” the vendor, who identified herself as Elsa, said in Spanish. “That day when I left, I left crying. They took everything from me.”

The arrest came two months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the MTA to hire 500 new police officers as part of a crackdown on homelessness and fare evasion. The plan would cost the transit agency more than $50 million a year.

Elsa tells the press about the night police detained her and confiscated her churro cart.
Elsa tells the press about the night police detained her and confiscated her churro cart. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

“It doesn’t have to be this way. It should anger all of us that somehow we found the money for 500 new transit officers when all of us have been demanding for so long that our city and state invest — and truly invest — in the MTA,” said State Sen. Julia Salazar at the press conference.

Mohamed Attia of the Street Vendor Project said this would not be an issue if the City Council passes a bill that would increase the number of licenses for street vendors up from a cap of 4,000, a number that has been in place since 1981.

Sofia Newman, right, filmed four NYPD officers detaining Elsa, a churro vendor at the Broadway Junction subway station.
Sofia Newman, right, filmed four NYPD officers detaining Elsa, a churro vendor at the Broadway Junction subway station. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

“Basically nobody can get a permit from the city, period. That’s the bottom line,” Attia said. “It is not acceptable that vendors are being criminalized for making a living.”


Elsa, who said she has been selling churros in the station for more than three years and has received 10 summonses in the past, was joined by her fellow vendors outside the station Saturday in support.

“First, they gave us tickets, but they didn’t take our things,” Elsa said of her previous encounters with the police. “Now, they give us tickets and they kick us out like an animal.”

Maria Falcon, a churro vendor, shows seven tickets she's gotten from the police for unsolicited vending.
Maria Falcon, a churro vendor, shows seven tickets she’s gotten from the police for unsolicited vending. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

The mother of five added that she’s afraid of going through the process to receive a license.

Maria Falcon, a native of Ecuador and fellow churro vendor at Broadway Junction, came with a handful of tickets she’d received at the station.

“I’m here to show that we’re humble people who come to work and we came to show that we are not criminals,” Falcon said in Spanish. “We don’t sell illegal items; these are things that don’t hurt anyone.”

Maria Marin, a tamale vendor, yells to police of the 33rd Transit District.
Maria Marin, a tamale vendor, yells to police of the 33rd Transit District. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Minutes before the rally at Broadway Junction began, another churro vendor was detained at the Myrtle Ave and Wyckoff Ave subway stop.

In response to Elsa being detained, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a video after the Veteran’s Day parade, “The facts are she was there multiple times and was told multiple times that’s not a place you can be and it’s against the law and it’s creating congestion and she shouldn’t have been there.”


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