De Blasio’s ‘Churro Crackdown’ Should Be Death Knell of Cuomo’s Plan for 500 More Subway Cops: Advocates
Never have so many people disagreed about something so basic — whether the city should allocate expensive police resources to detain and harass people who sell churros in the subway.
On the one side is Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo, hurling erroneous statistics about crime and inconvenience in the subway to justify a renewed enforcement effort against people who eek out a meagre living selling fried dough to hungry commuters. Cuomo has said that an increase in crime (which is not increasing) and a rise in fare evasion (which may simply be overstated) shows the need for 500 more police officers, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.
On the other side is … pretty much everyone else.
Transit and street vendor advocates railed against Cuomo’s military call up on Monday morning at a rally featuring the woman who was detained for selling churros at the Broadway Junction station on Friday night — which became national news after a video of the police interaction went viral.
As supporters of vending and a paramilitary-free subway rallied, another churro seller was detained at the Myrtle-Wyckoff station not far away, Bushwick Daily reported.
“A lot of vendors are angry about this,” said Mohammed Attia, the director of the Street Vendor Project (and that was before he knew about the Bushwick arrest). “It’s not acceptable that vendors are being criminalized for making a living.”
The vendor arrested at Myrtle-Wyckoff's name is Maria. She was arrested by Transit District 33, the same people who cuffed Elsa on Friday. Maria has been taken to booking at 120 Schermerhorn. This police abuse needs to end NOW
— StreetVendorProject (@VendorPower) November 12, 2019
Attia also pointed out that detaining churro sellers does not make riders safer. And arresting food vendors in the subway only underscores the need for reform of the permitting process for street vendors, whose numbers are currently capped. State Senator Jessica Ramos has a bill that would end the cap, and she called on Mayor de Blasio to support the bill and “stop criminalizing honest work.”
The mayor defiantly disagreed. Almost at the same time Elsa and her supporters were rallying — and the other churro vendor was being arrested in Bushwick — the mayor defended his cops, telling reporters that Elsa knew that what she was doing was against the law and “she shouldn’t have been there.”
Lifting the cap on vending permits is a small step towards fighting income inequality in our city and state, and ending the tale of two cities. Stop criminalizing honest work. Give her a permit and space to grow as an entrepreneur. Help me pass my bill, Bill. https://t.co/5KsjwT4ZT8
— Jessica Ramos (@jessicaramos) November 11, 2019
“So I looked at that video with the churro saleswoman,” Hizzoner said. “I want us to get to a day where that kind of action is not necessary. I understand the facts. 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. … The officers comported themselves properly from what I could see.”
Not to Elsa, who had been seen on the original video crying as officers disrespected her, ignored her pleas and demanded she speak English.
“I feel very stressed and absolutely humiliated, they took everything away from me,” Elsa said through a translator at Monday’s rally. She added that police usually either wrote her tickets instead of attempting to take her cart and churros from her.
Tonight as I was leaving Broadway Junction, I saw three or four police officers (one of them was either a plainclothes cop or someone who worked at the station) gathered around a crying woman and her churro cart. Apparently, it's illegal to sell food inside train stations. 1/? pic.twitter.com/sgQVvSHUik
— Sofia B. Newman (@SofiaBNewman) November 9, 2019
There is no question that the cops’ treatment of Elsa will become a flashpoint over the proposal to add 500 more officers to the MTA police — a battle that was already being waged over the monumental cost of the deployment. Cuomo wants his mini-army even though the Citizens Budget Commission has said the MTA budget deficit would grow to $1 billion.
“Governor Cuomo is putting 500 new cops on the subway,” Rebecca Bailin, the political director at the Riders Alliance said. “That costs money and that money should be going to service.”
And, obviously, cops don’t have the best reputation underground.
Even before the churro crackdown of the last few days, advocates were objecting to more police muscle in the subways, citing two high-profile police brutality incidents in Brooklyn that were widely shared on social media, including one in which police pulled their guns in a train full straphangers at Franklin Avenue, and another featuring a police officer punching a teenager in the face during a brawl at Jay-Street Metrotech.
“I don’t feel safe as a black woman when I hear ‘more police,'” said Danna Dennis, the Brooklyn organizer with the Riders Alliance. And she countered the governor’s suggestion on Monday that “the feeling that the subways are unsafe is up,” by saying cops in her subway station don’t have much to do.
“I see four and five cops on a daily basis standing around texting on their phones, looking bored, like they can barely make it through their shifts,” Dennis said.
Subway crime has dropped overall in 2019, with 1,978 major felonies committed through October this year compared to 2,027 through October last year. To defend their position that the subway needs additional police, MTA officials say there has been an uptick in fare evasion, and also are quick to site incidents that also are widely shared on social media, such as a woman shoved into a train by a serial subway saboteur and teenagers who kicked out a window on a subway car.
But State Senator Julia Salazar disputed the idea that the subways are in a downward spiral.
“As a young woman who often takes public transit by myself, I feel safe,” Salazar said at Monday’s rally. “Obviously any time there’s a violent interaction or an assault on the train it needs to be handled, as it would anywhere else. But I feel safe as a rider and I know people should feel safe.”
Perhaps the only person who hadn’t fully picked sides was also at Monday’s rally — in the form of a New York City Transit employee who asked for anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk about subway policing. The veteran transit employee checked out the rally and told Streetsblog he was generally supportive of some additional policing because the system does not feel safe late at night. But he also suggested police needed better training.
“I’ve seen police officers literally hit homeless people to try to wake them up,” the transit employee said while making a kicking motion. “That’s not right.”
Since the additional police would be dealing with homeless individuals in the subway system, the employee said that MTA police should be required to use body cameras the same way the NYPD does. MTA police currently are not required to wear body cameras while on duty, but another bill from Senator Ramos would require those police to wear them as well.
The MTA did not respond to a request for comment, but referred Streetsblog to an interview NYCT President Andy Byford gave on Monday morning to Good Day New York.
“I watched the video and it’s hard not to feel sorry for the lady,” he said.
Sounds like even the guy running the subway had picked sides.