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NYPD Arrests Another Subway Churro Vendor, Inflaming Outrage Over Cuomo’s ‘Quality Of Life’ Crackdown


Elected officials and transit advocates are calling for the MTA and the NYPD to stop cracking down on low-level offenses in the subway, and for state and city legislators to ease restrictions on street vendors, after the arrest of a churro vendor at Broadway Junction on Friday night spurred a wave of outrage.

“It feels absolutely horrible,” Elsa, the churro vendor, tearfully told a crowd of reporters in Spanish at a press conference outside the subway station in East New York on Monday.

Elsa, who declined to give her last name, said she had been selling churros in and around the station for three years, and that she has five children, four of whom live in Ecuador. While police have often asked her to move along, she said they had “never been so violent” the way they were on Friday.

“They took absolutely everything away from her,” Elsa’s translator said, as Elsa struggled to compose herself. “She said they took her to an area where there were no cameras and began to laugh.”

NYPD Detective Denise Maroney told Gothamist that Elsa has received ten summonses for unlicensed vending at the same station in the last five months, and that there have been “numerous complaints regarding unlicensed vendors” at the subway station.

The NYPD did not respond to our request for the number of such complaints received at the station in 2019.

A few minutes before Monday’s press conference, another churro vendor was arrested at the Myrtle-Wyckoff station.

“This unauthorized vendor was given a warning and told to leave the station,” an NYPD spokesperson told Gothamist. “She returned a short time later. Officers attempted to issue her a summons but discovered she had two open warrants. She was handcuffed, issued a summons, and taken to court to answer for her warrants.”

According to the Daily News, because of the Veteran’s Day holiday, there was no judge around to see the vendor on Monday, so the NYPD held them in jail overnight.

Images of churro vendors in handcuffs have further inflamed protests against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to invest in 500 new police officers for the MTA to address homelessness and “quality of life” issues. In recent weeks, straphangers have documented an increased MTA and NYPD police presence near turnstiles to deter fair evasion, as well as multiple violent arrests, including one in which two teenagers were punched by an NYPD officer.

Cuomo’s move, they say, puts vulnerable New Yorkers in harm’s way at a time when money would be better spent on improving subway service.

Meanwhile, new data from the MTA indicates that crime in the subway is falling, while the agency is facing a $1 billion budget deficit.

Protesters at Monday’s rally chanted “Churros in! Cuomo out!” and “No more cops! Fix the subways!”

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A man holds a sign during Monday’s rally.

Emma Whitford / Gothamist

“I want to know: is this safety?” asked Anthonine Pierre of the Brooklyn Movement Center, speaking on behalf of Communities United for Police Reform. “When hard working immigrants get handcuffed while trying to make a living: is this safety?”

“We have a governor whose policing policies spit in the face of poor people’s humanity and our right to live dignified lives,” she added.

Freshman State Senator Julia Salazar, whose district includes Broadway Junction, told the crowd that “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 and making the capital repairs that are needed for our public transit to properly function,” Salazar said.

Reached for comment on the rally, Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever did not defend officers’ actions, and suggested that the governor’s crackdown on “quality of life” offenses shouldn’t include churro vendors.

“The initiative is to combat violent incidents including robberies and assaults on transit workers, and hate crimes,” Lever told Gothamist in an email.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been supportive of Cuomo’s plan for 500 new cops in the subway. Speaking at an unrelated event Monday, de Blasio addressed Elsa’s case specifically.

“I want us to get to the day where that kind of action is not necessary,” de Blasio said. “I understand the facts. The facts are she was there multiple times and she was told multiple times that that’s not a place you can be. And it’s against the law and it’s creating congestion, and that she shouldn’t have been there.”

Women street vendors face acute challenges on the job, according to a new report from the Street Vendor Project that explored “vending while female.” Researchers with the nonprofit interviewed 50 women vendors from across the city, and found that 38 percent of them have had stressful and intimidating interactions with police.

The majority of the women surveyed by Street Vendor Project do not have permits—meaning they are constantly at risk of arrest, fines, and confiscation of property. These permits are currently nearly impossible to acquire, though advocates noted Monday that legislation before the City Council would incrementally lift a cap that has been in place since the 1980s, ultimately doubling the number of permits with 400 added each year for a decade. (Councilmember Brad Lander, a co-sponsor of the bill, was among the elected officials in attendance Monday.) A new state bill from Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos introduced last month would prohibit permit caps entirely.

But even with a permit, Elsa’s MTA vending would have been in violation of MTA rules, an agency spokesperson said. The MTA rules of conduct prohibit all vending without special permission from the agency.

“You’re just asking for problems,” said John Booker, a 64-year-old vendor of hats and scarves who sells outside of Broadway Junction and watched Monday’s rally from afar. “I think they blew it out of proportion and [are] making the police look like brutes. Most of the time [officers] turn a blind eye.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who talked about buying bootleg tapes from vendors at Broadway Junction when he was in high school, had a message for people who have invoked health code laws against vendors like Elsa.

“Are you asking that about all the bake sales and lemonade sales, or only the churro sales?” Williams said. “Because yes, laws exist. But what we understand is, there is a confluence of laws and policies… that have oppressed certain communities time and time again.”

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