NYC grocery distributors are demanding extra permits and an finish to police harassment

During the coronavirus pandemic, Marín, mother of four and breast cancer survivor, only sold groceries two or three times a week to protect her health and because her sales are declining over the summer. Their oldest daughter is now 20 years old and is in college. “My experience was tough. There were times when 10 or 8 police officers came to me where I was selling. They threw my things and gave me tickets between $ 1,500 and $ 2,000, ”she says.

ScreenShot2020-09-28at8.26.41AM.png Maria Marín at the rally on September 24th.

Marín is one of dozens of street vendors who led action on September 24, just steps from New York City Hall, demanding that local officials pass Intro 1116, a law that increases the number of permits issued to street vendors the police would remove it from enforcing the sale. Chants of “Sí se puede” and other words of resistance echoed through the rally in at least five different languages. Street vendors held signs that said, “More churros. Fewer Policemen ”and“ Justice for Street Vendors ”. Most wore yellow T-shirts and hats that said "Vendor Power," a symbol of being a member of the Street Vendor Project, a grassroots organization with over 2,000 vendor members.

First introduced to New York City Council in 2018, Intro 1116 was expected to generate 4,000 new approvals for mobile grocery vendors over the next 10 years. Currently, the number of annual sales permits is limited to 5,100, a limit that has been in place since 1981. The bill would also set up a vending machine enforcement agency to remove NYPD's involvement in street vending regulation. Street vendors and allies at the rally hoped to pressure New York City Council spokesman Corey Johnson to put the bill to a vote.

Nabil Boussabou, a 46-year-old grocer from Morocco, was on the podium in the middle of the crowd. "When the police come to our carts, they treat us with a lot of disrespect, they never respect us, they never help us and they never treat us fairly," he says in Arabic as Mohamed Attia, managing director of The Street Vendor Project, translates Boussabous Words in english. Boussabou, the father of a 5-year-old child, doesn't own a food truck, but works for one that sells breakfast and lunch in the financial district of Manhattan. Boussabou's dream is to have his own food truck one day, but first the city has to lift the permit cap.

Boussabou said he has been unable to work since March when the coronavirus pandemic began. He returned to work in early September.

“The first week I went back to work, the police fined me $ 500 for standing too close to the zebra crossing. They didn't even measure the distance, they didn't even know if I was in the right measurement or not, ”he said, insisting that he didn't break any regulations. Even with a grocery sale permit, the police can buy ticket vendors if they allegedly violate permit rules. With fewer clients and fewer hours worked, Boussabou's income is just $ 300 a week, he said. "That's not even enough to pay for the ticket." Just three months before Boussabou received a ticket, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had promised the police would stop harassing street vendors.

“Even during the pandemic, there were police officers giving tickets to undocumented vendors in Corona Plaza in Queens. Even at a time when people are most desperate and vulnerable, trying to provide for their families, there has been an appreciation and appreciation and understanding that salespeople do not commit crimes, ”says Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, Assistant Director at The Street Vendor Project.

Community organizer, former defense attorney and New York City Council candidate, Tiffany Cabán said we cannot separate the problem of monitoring street vendors from dealing with police brutality across the country.

"We need to rethink what public safety means because all of these things that harm our black and brown immigrant and low-income New Yorkers are selling us the idea that these laws exist to ultimately protect us. They have made families more vulnerable and destabilized entire communities, ”she told the crowd. "It is so important that we lift the permit ban because life depends on it, because we need to remove the police from situations, because we know our legal systems will not provide justice or relief, because we know every single interaction with." A police officer has the ability to be violent for our community members. "

There are up to 20,000 street vendors in New York City today, including mobile grocery and merchandise vendors, according to The Street Vendor Project. That number could be bigger now, says Kaufman-Gutierrez as the US faces one of the most devastating economic recessions sparked by the pandemic, leaving millions of people jobless. Because street vendors license application does not require a social security number, many street vendors are not documented.


While retailers only need a license, grocers must obtain both a license after taking a food handling course and a permit for the cart or vehicle in which they transport the food. “If you don't have your permit, you have two options: You can run the risk of working without a permit, which means you will be harassed by the police and fined from… six different city authorities or your other alternative is to try to find a permit … in the underground market, ”says Kaufman-Gutierrez. While city-issued grocery sales permits typically only cost $ 200 every two years, black market permits can be much more expensive, according to Kaufman-Gutierrez.

At the street vendors rally, Yu Xia Zhang, a Chinese grocer who sells Chinese barbecue in Flushing, Queens, told the crowd that she had to rent someone else's permit and pay $ 20,000 every two years because the city refused to give her to issue one. “That is a great burden. During the pandemic, this made my situation even more difficult, ”she says in Mandarin while an organizer translates into English. She has been in the US for 19 years and has been a street vendor for the past four years. “We built our business step by step with our own hands. Everyone here works hard every day, ”she said.

New York Councilor Margaret Chin, the main sponsor of Intro 1116, reminded the crowd that the bill has enough support to be passed should the council finally decide to vote on it. Nor is this the first time that similar legislation has been put before the Council.

Kaufman-Gutierrez also reflects the hypocrisy of the city issuing thousands of food permits for restaurants in New York City during the pandemic. The Street Vendor Project is in solidarity with restaurants and restaurant workers, but they wonder why the city isn't giving street vendors similar permission. "Restaurants … are in no way getting the support they need to survive the pandemic [or support their employees], but there is real segregation, misunderstanding and discrimination against street vendors right now," she says. “[A streamlined procedure for permits] exists but excludes, ignores and ignores the fact that vendors have been fighting for decades for the right to be recognized as small businesses that work and work from the streets and sidewalks. ”

As she wipes the tears from her face, Marín says that she is proud of her work. She was able to help pay for her daughter's college while continuing to struggle for the life she longed for when she left the motherland. “Every time I go out on the street, I pray to God for protection,” she says. “I have to unite us all. We want to work honestly and without fear. "

María Inés Taracena is a contributing writer working on labor rights at Prism. The native Guatemala is currently a news producer on Democracy Now! in New York City with an emphasis on Central America and asylum seekers, including stories.

Prism is a nonprofit news agency, run by BIPOC, that puts the spotlight on the people, places and topics that our national media currently does not cover. Through our original reporting, analysis and commentary, we challenge dominant, toxic narratives that are immortalized by the mainstream press, and work to create a complete and accurate record of what is happening in our democracy. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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