Street vendors complain harassment from city

Supporters last week rallied together in Corona Plaza to protest the city’s treatment of street vendors, calling for an end to fines and excessive regulation.
Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement last year that the NYPD would no longer oversee the enforcement of street vendors, many vendors say they have experienced an uptick in interactions with the police and other city agencies since the beginning of this month.
The city resumed issuing $1,000 fines for unpermitted food vending and $250 fines for vending unlicensed merchandise.
“The continued crackdown on vendors who are simply trying to make a living and provide for their families is just one example of the over-policing that Black, Brown and immigrant communities are forced to endure all the time,” said Theodore Moore, senior director of policy at The New York Immigration Committee.
“Instead of city agencies fining vendors, who because of the pandemic are already struggling, the city should be cutting the NYPD’s bloated budget and use those funds to help vendors and small businesses,” he added.
Policarpo Cortes, 68, has been a street vendor for nearly 50 years, selling chicharrons in Sunset Park since he was a young man. He lives in Coney Island and the profession was handed down to him by his father but maintaining that legacy has become a challenge and a headache.
His goods have been seized numerous times by the NYPD, and he can recall one month where he received three $1,000 fines for lacking a valid permit.
Not only do these fines target people who often lack the resources to recover financially, but Cortes feels the city’s current practices are dehumanizing to immigrant entrepreneurs.
He has seen his chicharrons thrown into garbage cans, and even at times when he had a permit with the city, instances where he forgot it at home resulted in his inventory being seized and discarded by police.
The protest was organized by The Street Vendor Project and attended by many members of New Immigrant Community Empowerment.
NICE is a community organization based in Jackson Heights that has organized with immigrant workers and day laborers for the past 21 years, mostly in industries like construction, cleaning and healthcare.
However, during the pandemic many of their members lost their jobs and were forced to turn to street vending in order to survive.
“When the city fines a street vendor $1,000, it puts people in a really vulnerable position because they’ve already lost their job and don’t have the money,” said Sara Feldman, director of Worker’s Rights at NICE. “It creates this cycle of economic immobility that’s paralyzing immigrant communities.”
During the protest vendors took turns talking about the supportive role they play in local commerce, from attracting business to parts of the city like Corona Plaza that aren’t frequented by tourists to keeping dimly lit streets safe at night with their presence.
Some street vendors even talked about how they assisted people in their community that were facing food insecurity during the height of the pandemic and offered meals to the unhoused.
“We can uplift all immigrants by supporting street vendors, lifting the cap on permits and ending the fines,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
“Street vending is as old as New York City, and what we’re asking for from the mayor and from the governor is for us to stop criminalizing street vending,” added State Senator Jessica Ramos said. “Everyone who wants to do honest work should be able to do so without fear.”

All photos by André Beganski.