Every time I take a crew on a Midnight Tour, I learn something new. Not only did we have the chileatole (like equites but verde spicy), we were witness to one of our tamale ladies getting fined. A few minutes after we ordered our hot arroz con leche and a mole tamale for $2, the cops pulled up. Maria knew the deal, without a word she gave them her license.
About 10 minutes later, they come out of the car and ask her last name – I am not sure it was legible on the license. They go back and my translator, my tour group, and I wait around to see what happens. I prop up my camera to get the results…
I know that NYC is a police state and the police can make up any little thing to hassle or detain you. I know that once you get a ticket, guilty or not guilty, you lose - so I didn’t push it with anything, didn’t run my mouth… but it didn’t end there.
I told the officer that Maria wanted to know what she was being fined for. He asked if I spoke Spanish, so I called over my translator. He said that her license was expired and she was less than 10 feet from the subway entrance. I pointed to the entrance and said that this is obviously more than 10 feet, so why did he write the ticket? At this point, four more officers came by and he told me that “She knows she’s not supposed to be here.” I said that’s fine, but the ticket she has is for being 10 feet from the subway entrance and we can all see she’s more than 10 feet. “Look she’s not supposed to be here. She knows she’s not supposed to be here.” And that continued twice more.
At this point, another officer chimed in “you guys can’t be here. If you’re not getting anything, you have to keep moving.” I told her we were just eating – and looked around at the 11pm sidewalk which hadn’t gathered much crowd at this point, especially not by us three. “There’s been a lot of muggings in this area,” flabbergasted by this statement from her, I told her okay we’re leaving. So I walked around and took a picture of Maria’s cart, standing 14 feet from each subway entrance.
It’s an interesting scene that the police write tickets for things they know are not true. The officer just wrote the ticket, yet had no intention to back it up, it wasn’t even a question whether this ticket was true or not. These were not meter maids who’s mental capacity is questionable, these were 25-year old police officers who have the capacity to think, but choose not to. They choose to be stern and write predetermined tickets. It’s questionable.
After seeing Zahida Pirani’s documentary Judith: Portrait of a Street Vendor this afternoon, and learning that of the $16 million that’s fined yearly, only 10% is collected back (with a $5 million cost to the city), it is a wonder the zealousness to fine these tamale ladies. It’s possible the young police officers are trying to make themselves look busy by cherry picking fine-able people. The young police officers don’t have much regard for justice, and are armed with tactics to make people shut up rather than promote the residents of the neighborhood.