Videos depicting a subway churro vendor being confronted by not one but four police officers in Brooklyn went viral this weekend. The incident occurred at the Broadway Junction stop in East New York, involved a woman who is reportedly a longtime presence at the station. If not as much as the “Showtime” crews, churro vendors are nonetheless a fixture of the subway system, where you’ll find them vending at busier stations like Union Square.
On Friday, the woman was confronted by police officers who told her she had to give up her churro cart or she would be arrested. She refused, and the police subsequently handcuffed her and took her to the station at Broadway Junction. She reportedly had been told not to sell the churros in the station without a permit. Getting one of those permits isn’t so simple as there are only 4,000, and they can go for as reportedly as much as $25,000 on the black market. (State Senator Jessica Ramos has introduced legislation to remove the cap on permits.)
The NYPD shared a statement with the Washington Post, saying the woman had been issued ten summonses over the last five months for vending without a permit. Police have claimed that they received complaints about vendors, including that vendors block pedestrian traffic, which seems richer than the chocolate sauce served with churros if you’ve ever been to the sprawling Broadway Junction stop.
The NYPD does claim the woman released within minutes, but her cart was kept as evidence. One of the people who filmed the videos, Sofia B. Newman, told the Post the interaction is an “abuse of power” and that she wants to help the woman get the cart back and help cover her expenses through a GoFundMe. City officials were critical of the incident, with public defender Eliza Orlins tweeting “we cannot allow this to go on” and comptroller Scott M. Stringer arguing this “doesn’t make anyone safer.” The incident occurred during ramped-up subway policing, including enforcement of fare evasion laws that have been roundly criticized. Churro vendors have been targeted by the police in the past, with one vendor saying in 2015 that she had been arrested seven times over a two-and-a-half year period.