After two decades selling homemade tamales in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sonía Pèrez has received her fair share of tickets from the police. Often, they’re for minor infractions: being too far from the curb, being too close to a crosswalk.
But a few years ago, an encounter with the police frightened her. While checking to see her vendor license, Ms. Pèrez said, four officers harassed her oldest daughter, who they claimed was affiliated with a gang because she had tattoos and piercings. The officers also threatened Ms. Pèrez with a $50,000 fine, she said.
That threat, she later found out, was empty. But it’s part of a larger pattern of discrimination against Hispanic and black vendors, said Ms. Pèrez, a single mother who supports her four children with her business.
“I don’t know what they’re going to ask me, or I don’t know how they’re going to act,” said Ms. Pèrez, 49, speaking through a translator. “If I respond in a way that they don’t like, they could attack me, or they could arrest me right there for selling.”
Ms. Pèrez was heartened by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement last Sunday that the New York Police Department would no longer enforce street-vendor regulations, but she is uncertain what it means for her and her business, and fears even steeper fines.
“He just said the police are not going to handle it anymore, but who is?” she said. “We don’t want worse than police.”
As protesters across the city and nation demand sweeping changes in law enforcement, Mr. de Blasio announced that a civilian agency would be created to enforce regulations instead of the police.
He did not specify when the police would stop enforcement or whether vendors would still be subject to oversight by the other city departments that inspect or regulate them: fire, health, transportation, parks, sanitation and consumer affairs. Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a spokeswoman for his office, did not answer questions about how people would be chosen to oversee the vendors, or how many. “We are finalizing next steps,” she wrote in an email.
The mayor also said he would redirect some police funding, but Ms. Lapeyrolerie would not confirm that money for the new agency would come from the Police Department.
Protests sparked by the death of George Floyd have grown into calls to defund police departments. That would mean reducing police budgets and transferring civic regulations — resolving family and school disputes, moving homeless people into shelters — to other agencies. Vendor oversight would fall well within those bounds.
“It was a gesture,” Carlos Menchaca, a City Council member, said of the mayor’s announcement. “I think it was to placate the people of New York.”
Street vendors are often the subject of complaints from store owners, business improvement districts, building managers and neighbors over noise, smells, sidewalk congestion and other nuisances. A public information officer for the Police Department said that enforcing the laws governing the vendors is vital to protecting public health, food safety and keeping sidewalks clear.
“We will work with City Hall to transition these responsibilities to the agency tasked with vendor enforcement going forward,” she wrote in a Wednesday email.
In 2018, long before the calls to defund the police, City Council members proposed a new framework for how vendors could be regulated: Intro 1116, a bill that has the support of more than half the Council but has not yet come up for a vote.
Article courtesy of Rachel Wharton and the New York Times.