Arrest of vendor at Brooklyn subway station touches off debate on police action

May 10, 2022 Jaime DeJesus
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The police’s recent handcuffing of a vendor who was allegedly selling fruit and snacks at the Broadway Junction subway station in Brooklyn without a permit has set off a debate on social media and among elected officials.

Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer who began his NYPD career in a transit police unit, defended the police’s actions, but other officials, as well as advocacy organizations, have opposed the mayor’s stance.

The incident happened on April 29, but video of it surfaced online on Saturday, May 7, leaving New Yorkers and politicians divided on the topic.

“There’s a reason we have Department of Health standards,” Adams said during a conference Monday, May 9. “If people are just selling food without any form of insurance of the quality of that food, someone could get ill from that. That’s why there are rules in the subway system. Now, if I allow anyone to sell anything and someone gets sick, a large number of people get sick, you guys are going to be writing, ‘Eric is allowing people to circumvent the Department of Health standards.’”

Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul announce the new subway safety plan at the Fulton Street transfer station in Lower Manhattan last month. Photo by Michael Appleton/NYC Mayor’s Office

He added that, “Next day, it’s propane tanks being on the subway system. The next day, it’s barbecuing on the subway system. You just can’t do that.”

The video shows Maria Falcone cuffed and being walked out of the station by cops along with her food cart, which carried mangoes, kiwis and boxes of chocolate. It was filmed by her daughter.

According to The New York Times, she was issued a summons and was later released. She also had been issued a similar summons on April 5.

The Street Vendor Project, a membership-driven organization championing the rights of street vendors, released the video via Twitter.

“Horrific treatment of Maria, a mother, immigrant entrepreneur & her *daughter* who filmed,” the tweet read. “Earlier this week, Maria was arrested for selling mangoes & kiwis to customers she’s served for 10+ yrs. Shame on our city for choosing cruelty, instead of supporting hard working mothers.”

The organization added that Falcone has a food vendor license, but no permit to vend.

“It’s not for lack of trying,” another tweet read. “A cap on the # of permits in place for 40 yrs makes it nearly impossible to get one, hurting NYC’s smallest biz.”

The NYC Street Vendor Justice Coalition said that Falcone obtained her mobile food vendor license lawfully, passed the DOHMH food safety course and pays a quarterly sales tax on her business.

“She has tried with great effort to get a mobile food vendor permit from the city — but she was turned down from receiving one due to the outdated and arbitrary cap on mobile food vendor permits,” the statement read.

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander indirectly criticized the mayor’s stand on the issue.

“Handcuffing Maria in front of her daughter for selling fruit does nothing to make our city safer,” he said. “Criminalizing street vendors is a terrible use of resources, especially at a time when we should be expanding licenses & efforts to help entrepreneurs support their families.”

Police handcuff Maria Falcone and take her cart of food away after not having a permit to vend. Street Vendor Project Twitter photo

Councilmember Alexa Aviles, who represents the 38th District that includes Red Hook, Sunset Park, Greenwood Heights and portions of Windsor Terrace, Dyker Heights and Borough Park, also chimed in.

“Thinking about how it’s Mother’s Day, and this is how our city treats so many working-class immigrant women of color,” she said. “Harassing people trying to make a living doesn’t make us any safer. Buy your flowers from a street vendor today.”

As for the MTA, spokesperson Aaron Donovan provided a statement.

“The MTA recognizes the benefits that vending can provide, but there are also safety-oriented rules about vending on platforms,” he said. “While there are a wide range of opinions about which rules to prioritize, the MTA appreciates that the NYPD is working across the board to protect subway riders and encourage compliance with all rules of conduct in the system.”  

Back in February, Adams revealed the city’s Subway Safety Plan.

“No more smoking. No more doing drugs. No more sleeping. No more doing barbecues on the subway system. No more just doing whatever you want,” Adams said at the time.

“This is a result of having police respond whenever, wherever issues arise,” wrote Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “NYC has said police shouldn’t enforce against street vendors, creating a new office to prevent it. Maria should be able to feed her neighbors & support her family — on Mothers’ Day! — without fear of police.”

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