Subway Churro Vendor Says Police Became Violent When Arresting Her

Natalie Gontcharova
Morning commuters in a crowded subway station in New York on May 11, 2016. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)

The vendor whom the New York Police Department arrested on Friday for the crime of selling churros in the subway spoke out at a rally in Brooklyn on Monday afternoon.

“I wasn’t doing anything wrong, just selling my churros,” Elsa, who did not provide her last name, said in Spanish through a translator to a crowd of city officials and activists who had come to protest the overpolicing of the subway, according to The New York Post. “He forcibly tried to remove the cart and I kept asking him not to but he moved it. In the past I was just given tickets and it has never been violent. I’m afraid of going through the process of getting a license. It’s too much money.”

On Friday, a video taken by Sofia Newman, an NYC-based actor, went viral of Elsa being arrested at the Broadway Junction stop in Brooklyn. In it, several policemen encircled the woman and eventually took her cart. Newman said one of the officers made fun of her and rolled her eyes when she tried to speak to an officer in Spanish. She was released later in the day and given a civil court summons.

“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 in a thread. “It was an abuse of power, and yet another example of how broken our system is.”

The rally was organized by the Street Vendor Project and Riders Alliance, and various officials including State Sen. Julia Salazar spoke. 

According to NBC News, NYPD said in a statement that the arrest was a response to “numerous complaints” about unlicensed vendors at the station because of health concerns. They said Elsa had received 10 summons in the past five months for unlicensed vending. “She refused to cooperate and was briefly handcuffed; officers escorted her into the command where she was uncuffed,” the statement said. “Her property was vouchered as arrest evidence and she was released within minutes.”

Since Friday’s arrest, Bushwick Daily captured another arrest of a churro vendor on Monday, this one at Myrtle Wyckoff stop. Police confirmed the vendor as Maria Curillo, 41, according to the Post.

“This is maddening. And totally unnecessary. It’s also a reminder that Elsa’s experience is common, and now even more so due to increased police presence in the subway. It needs to stop,” Salazar responded on Twitter.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in its rules of conduct, prohibits food vendors without a permit inside the subway. But obtaining a permit is a huge hurdle, according to the New York Daily News, the city caps the number of licenses to 4,000, which forces many to pay thousands for them on the black market.

The churro vendor arrests come amid a wave of overpolicing in the subway system, including an increased effort to crack down on fare evasion. Hundreds have protested these actions by police, which they say target immigrants, people of color, and other marginalized communities.

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