In case you’ve never seen it, here it is:
It was my first time. For myself, I’ve only heard about it.
Yesterday on 82nd Street just south of Roosevelt Avenue, two tamale ladies had their equipment seized by the police. The vendors are ones that typically set up in this location, until they are approached by police. Usually they get tickets, and both the police and the vendors go on their way. This time, it was a harsher penalty, and a more demonstrative one.
This day seemed to be a sweep of the area by police, as they later gave a ticket to a publicly drunken man down the street and back at the 74th street station, I saw a candy dealer busted. I also noticed that some other usual unpermitted (but not unlicensed) food dealers weren’t operating as well (I can only speculate what happened to them).
This was the first time I’d actually seen the equipment getting taken away. I’d heard they might do this every 3 months or so. Usually the ladies just get tickets and that’s all. I am not sure if they are directed by captains that “today’s the day” or what. I’ve also been told by one of the ladies in the video that she has been to jail overnight for the same offense.
As I witnessed on this date, the police were cordial, and even apologetic. This is in contrast to many other confrontations I have been witness to, where the officers dealt with the language barrier by treating it as a veil to grey-area morals. On this date, the police were helpful in translating the necessary information to the vendors.
In this video, the police can be seen putting all the food in garbage bags and taking their equipment. As I understand it, the ladies will have to pay a fee and then be able to pick up their equipment at the station or other facility.
I’m not sure what can be done about the situation. These particular ladies are operating in a highly trafficked area because of the amount of business in that area. This visibility also makes it the most controversial. It is a part of doing business, it’s understood and unfortunate. Street vendors have been on the right side of the people and the wrong side of the authorities for over 300 years in New York City. As I see people from other cities celebrate their smallest entrepreneurs, it feels unfair to describe how difficult the city makes it for our vendors here in NYC. As the newest dream of our leadership is to fight the Tale of Two Cities, I don’t see why anyone who wants to work is not able to. The contributors to the public well-being should be praised for it. Those contributors should be our food vendors and our police officers.
As someone who brings tourists to the area frequently (on the “Midnight” crawl), I get asked questions about crime in the area all the time. I tell them how it’s a family area, with constant flow of people under the trains which keeps the majority safe. I tell them about drunk people getting loose on the streets, but also gangs and prostitution which aren’t visible if you aren’t involved. I have never thought about the tamale vendors as crime, and no one has ever suggested it. The fact is, when you are measured by numbers and you can choose between drug dealers and tamale ladies, who is easier to ticket? People involved with more obvious crimes such as illegal drugs, prostitution, car theft and violence are more likely to run, be armed with knives, or be willing to fight. A tamale lady won’t run, is never armed, and usually stands no more than 5 foot 2 inches. Later, when telling about what you do at work to your family, it might be uncomfortable to tell your children that the crime is women selling $1 tamales, but at least you’ll be able to tell it when you’re home safe. And when your job is to stay up all night to cook for masses of people getting off the 7-train, the children might wonder why you spent the night in jail or all your equipment is gone.