Advocates rally against over-policing after cops cuff churros vendor

A Brooklyn churro vendor cuffed by police spoke at a rally Monday.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Elected officials and transit advocates are treating a viral video of police harassing a churros vendor at the Broadway Junction subway stop as Exhibit A in their campaign to stop Governor Andrew Cuomo from hiring 500 new cops to police the city’s subway system. 

“We can’t avoid connecting this directly to the 500 additional officers,” said state Sen. Julia Salazar. “They’re bullying teenagers, hurting the trust between people and police, and bullying vendors.”

Salazar partnered with advocates at Riders Alliance and the Street Vendors Project to organize a protest outside Broadway Junction on Monday, where they were joined by the vendor, named Elsa, who became internet famous after footage of police cuffing her and confiscating her snack cart on Friday accrued nearly 2 million views.

“I’m here alone and no one helps. I’m here 4 years but it wasn’t like this, this guy is very racist,” Elsa said at the rally. “I feel terrible, I tell them give me tickets but don’t take away my stuff, it’s all I have to work for my kids.”

The incident follows a viral video of police beating teens at the Jay Street-MetroTech subway station and comes as Cuomo plans to spend as much as $900 million over the next 10 years hiring hundreds of new cops to crack down on fare beaters throughout the city’s transit system.

The nine-figure spending spree, which was calculated by the Citizens Budget Commission, would combine with the MTA’s current $740 million deficit to create a more than $1 billion funding gap within the next four years, and advocates say Cuomo’s crazy to hire cops when he could be investing in the subway. 

“Cuomo made this decision,” said Rebecca Bailin of the Rider’s Alliance. “He’s using MTA money that should be going to increasing service, and he’s using it to police New Yorkers.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio backed police officers when asked about the churros incident at a press conference Monday, calling the vendor’s un-permitted activity “an emergency,” while claiming the NYPD has become a more progressive, community-focused organization under his administration. 

“Sometimes we’re going to have a situation that’s an emergency, or a situation where officers have to respond as best they can under tough circumstances,” de Blasio said during a media availability at the Veterans Day Parade in Manhattan. “The point to me is to continue to evolve policing in a direction that we are closer and closer to communities, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

This isn’t the first time the city’s faced backlash for cracking down on unlicensed vendors. 

In April, up to 300 vendors the city will pay $188,000 to vendor, who filed a class action lawsuit claiming the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene had confiscated and destroyed the carts of vendors who had been issued violations for un-permitted activity. 

And another churro vendor wound up in handcuffs at the Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues station on the Ridgewood/Bushwick border just before the Broadway Junction rally kicked off Monday, Bushwick Daily reported.

Silvana Diaz contributed to this report.