Posted by: Jeffsayyes | December 4, 2011

Scenes from the Midnight Tour: Tamale Lady Fined (video)

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.

Some nuisance.


  1. You write that her license was expired, then ask why she got a ticket……but of a stretch to bash the police on this one….

    • I asked why she was fined for being less than 10 feet from the subway entrance, when they knew she was not. I have no problem with her being fined for not having a license. Maybe it wasn’t clear in the post..

  2. I’d just like to point out that as a resident of nearby Jackson Heights this type of police harassment is what these street vendors deal with every day. I’d bet any amount of money the ticket was for nothing. I moved to this neighborhood precisely because of the cultural mix and street food and I sometimes see the cops treating these people as if they’re a nuisance…meanwhile they have a line everyday to buy the food they sell, so clearly they’re not. Either myself or my girlfriend buys tamales from the nice tamale lady at 82nd and Roosevelt virtually every morning…they’re delicious. Probably the root of this story is “25 year old police officers”. As a prospective NYPD recruit at the ripe old age of 32…if hired I will NEVER behave in this manner. I’ll never understand when cops do this because most of them have become cops for one of 2 reasons… genuinely help people, but mostly #2. to get a paycheck for doing as little work as humanly possible. Harassing nice ladies selling tamales doesn’t hash with either of these. I also love their quote “there have been muggings in the area”…..great observation officer Farva, why not try and keep those from happening instead of ticketing a tamale lady for no good reason.

    • Thanks Dan. You are 100 percent right. I’m going to help them much more. Thank you for your support of the people living in our community.

  3. Why were you arguing with the officer when everyone knew that she was breaking the law by having expired license. That also doesnt look like its “obviously” more than 10 feet. It looks like about 10 feet to me..

    Follow the law and you wont get tickets.. its pretty simple.

  4. “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?”

    Just read this sentence…and explain to me what you dont understand. “He said her license was expired.” And you say “So why did he write the ticket?”

    Am I missing something?

    • If he wrote a ticket for no license, that is fine. I understand that she is violating that. I am not contesting that. You should know, though, that there is a 10-15 year waiting list for licenses, and a $16,000 black market price tag for one – so her chance of getting a license is zero.

      He did not write the ticket for not having a license. He wrote it for being less than 10 feet from the subway.

      He did not argue that she was less than 10 feet from the subway, as his ticket was written. His argument was “She’s not supposed to be here.” To me, writing a ticket for something that is not true is not right. If you go to court, and your argument is “she’s not supposed to be here”, that probably wouldn’t fly.

      I have a problem with someone writing a ticket for something, as an excuse for something else. Don’t you?

  5. […] more link: Even Time Out New York shows off the Tamale Lady online. Well ok, another link. The Queens Qustodian captured a bit of what the ladies go through to bring us these delicious packages. God Bless the […]

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