Nov. 11, 2019 By Allie Griffin
Transit riders, street vendors and elected officials held a rally Monday criticizing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to add 500 law enforcement officers to the MTA police force.
The rally was held at the Broadway Junction subway station in Brooklyn, the location where a churro vendor was detained by several police officers on Friday night in an incident that was caught on video and went viral.
The protesters called on Cuomo to drop his plan to boost MTA enforcement in the city’s subways. Instead, they demanded the governor spend the funds to improve bus and subway service and create opportunities for vendors to work free from harassment.
They also criticized recent policing practices, arguing that cops are being too harsh on impoverished vendors. They pointed to Friday night’s incident involving Elsa, who was put in handcuffs for selling churros.
“The increased surveillance and police enforcement of the subway has turned it into a battleground for criminalizing poverty and demeaning low-income New Yorkers,” said State Senator Alessandra Biaggi. “We must invest our resources into repairing our broken transit system and growing the prosperity of our communities — not the policing of low-income riders and New Yorkers trying to make a living.”
Rally-goers demanded that existing subway enforcement focus on serious crime, as opposed to criminalizing low-income food vendors and targeting fare evaders.
The churro vendor attended the rally. She was captured crying in the video posted to Twitter and was issued a summons by police that night for unlicensed vending.
The sale of food in the subway is banned unless authorized by the MTA. A NYPD spokesperson said she has been issued with 10 summonses in the past six months for unlicensed vending.
Cuomo’s proposal to ramp up MTA enforcement is meant to address fare evasion and “quality of life” crimes. Critics have said the measures unfairly target low-income New Yorkers who struggle to pay the $2.75 subway/bus fare and those who work as street vendors for money. They argue that the MTA’s stretched budget would be better spent on service.
Many advocates pointed to the MTA’s own crime statistics that show public transit crimes have decreased. “Subway crime is very low and falling. More cops will bust the MTA’s budget and hurt vulnerable populations including low-income vendors like Elsa,” said Riders Alliance Community Organizer Danna Dennis.
“Governor Cuomo needs to focus on the MTA’s core services and spend riders’ money on subway and bus frequency not over-policing public transit.”
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