I love churros. Not as much as donuts, but still. There’s even a chance I might buy one from a woman in the subway, although I do not, in general, believe it’s wise to buy food in the subway, especially sushi, but I digress. Some people, however, try to make some money by selling such delectables. They go about with a cart, hawking their wares, as a way to earn a living, feed their children, survive.
The problem is that it’s against the law to do so if you lack a license from the City of New York. You can’t do it on the street without a license. You doubly can’t do it in the subway without a license. The rationale includes public health and safety, although the fact that licenses generate revenue and protect the revenues of people who rent space in the subway to churro-women poaching their turf.
Should there be such regulation? Should this regulation be enforced by the police through the legal system? Those are questions for philosophers, as there are such regulations* and they provide for criminal enforcement. Apparently, Sophia B. Newman didn’t know this, and thought this was a fair issue for debate with police in the subway.
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
She kept trying to speak to one of the cops in Spanish, but the plainclothes cop kept rolling his eyes and saying things like, "Are you done?" and "I know you can speak English." Eventually, they cuffed her and unceremoniously dragged her and her cart away. 3/? pic.twitter.com/qVIfN7DO7u
— Sofia B. Newman (@SofiaBNewman) November 9, 2019
Transit cops dealing with an unlicensed vendor is about as common New York as it gets. Sometimes it’s guys selling counterfeit handbags, spread out across the ground so that it’s impossible for subway riders to navigate the platform. Sometimes, it’s a woman selling churros. Usually, they seize the goods and accoutrements and give them a ticket. If they refuse to provide identification, they are constrained to arrest the person. You can’t give a ticket to a person who won’t provide an ID. That’s how it works.
But what a curious time when a woman, taking video of the sordid bust, believes that this is not merely a subject of debate between her and the police, but that she gets to demand answers from the cops that meet her approval. Does she suspect that every police action is subject to the individual veto of any random passerby? If the cops fail to justify their action to her satisfaction, what are they to do?
And then comes the subsequent condemnation.
You’re literally doing this right now, are you fucking kidding me?
How could that possibly not alter events in real life, just as it does on the twitters?
She’s just trying to sell some stuff. This is fucking ridiculous.
It may well be that it’s ridiculous, but the fact that the woman was “just trying to sell some stuff” is why she was being arrested. In New York City, there are a lot of rules and regulations, and more coming daily. Many are ridiculous, but they’re still the law.
Should the police not enforce the law when someone screams “this is fucking ridiculous” at them? Maybe so, and that’s becoming an increasingly accepted notion by many people who, aware of the law for the first time when it actually happens in front of them, realize that it’s not nearly as easy to watch real people get arrested, with all its consequences, as it is to demand that something must be done on Instagram.
We are a nation with tens of thousand of crimes, each of which had its supporters for at least a moment, crying about how ridiculous it was that this terrible thing was happening and shouldn’t, and so something had to be done. The “something” is invariably to make it a crime and have the police enforce it. Until you actually see it go down, and then you feel really badly about it and yell curses at the police for not being sufficiently empathetic.
Was this woman selling churros in the subway worthy of arrest? Should it be against the law for an unlicensed vendor to try to make some money? These are fair questions, as well as what the alternative might be to having the police enforce laws if laws there should be. But what a wondrous time we live in where random woman get to engage in vapid cries directed as cops doing their jobs.
The oddest part is where the officer actually explains to Newman that they warned the churro woman to stop selling in the subway but she refused. As if he owed her an explanation, and didn’t instead toss her against a wall for interfering in their arrest. Some will wonder whether they didn’t tune her up because she was a white woman. I know I do.
The churro woman was eventually given a summons and released, but that isn’t the end for Newman, whose twits generated enough interest to get a New York Post article.
“No matter what the law says, there is no reason why that many officers needed to encircle, demean, and police the poverty of that woman of color,” Newman wrote on Twitter.
Would she have been fine with the “demeaning” had it only been two officers? Would it have been fine if it had been a white man encircled?
City Comptroller Scott Stringer condemned the cops “enforcement.”
“This kind of enforcement doesn’t make anyone safer,” he tweeted Saturday. “Another incident that raises serious questions about the increased police presence in our subways.”
Perhaps Stringer is unaware of how NYC regs are enacted, as if it’s the cops’ fault that this is against the law, and if only there was someone, someone, Stringer knew who could do something about it.
Eliza Orlins, a city public defender said on Twitter: “This is heartbreaking. We cannot allow this to go on.”
It’s hard to question what breaks another person’s heart, though in the scheme of things, I suspect her heart really didn’t break. As for the churro woman, it likely didn’t rend her heart at all.
“This individual has been issued 10 summonses in the last five months for unlicensed vending at the same station,” according to NYPD spokeswoman Sophia Mason.
“She refused to cooperate and was briefly handcuffed. Her property was vouchered as arrest evidence, and she was released within minutes.”
For people trying to survive by engaging in conduct they know is unlawful, it’s all in a day’s work. For the newly woke, it’s “fucking ridiculous.” The glory is we all get to say so without being arrested. For now.
*While the New York City Council has no authority to create state law crimes, it can create city regulatory offenses which are punishable as crimes and enforced by the police. And, it’s worthy of noting, if the person subject to police enforcement fails to be sufficiently compliant, such as Eric Garner, they could well end up dead.