Street vendors, advocates slam city bust of Bronx fruit stand

Diana Hernandez next to her stall that was raided by the city at Pelham Bay Parkway in the Bronx.
Photo Kevin Duggan

What a waste!

Advocates and politicians rallied in support of a Bronx street vendor Sunday, Sept. 26, after city officials shut down her stall last week and dumped her fresh produce in the trash.

“I’ve been working here for five years now, in the heat, in the cold, hail, snow, anything,” said vendor Diana Hernandez, through a translator. “I was very indignant the day that they took away my stuff because I thought that was very unfair that they did that.”

Viral video on Twitter, posted by the advocacy group Street Vendor Project, showed Sanitation workers taking crates full of strawberries, bananas and watermelon from the stand and dumping them into the back of their garbage truck, as NYPD officers stand by at the Pelham Parkway sidewalk near White Plains Road on Sept. 23.

The city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) came to inspect the stand, which Hernandez runs without a license, and officials with the agency and DSNY claimed that she’d abandoned the stall, so they removed the goods.

“This video shows a small portion of an unfortunate situation, where abandoned material needed to be disposed of for the safety of the community,” said DSNY spokesman Joshua Goodman. “The Department of Sanitation is committed to our mission of keeping streets and neighborhoods safe, clean, and healthy.”

Hernandez, however, claimed she was there for the entire time, and she can be seen standing next to a DSNY vehicle while workers dump her fruit in one of the online videos.

“There’s so much food insecurity in my community… it just didn’t make any sense to me and I was very upset,” she said. “I would have preferred that day to give away food while they were throwing it away, because that didn’t make any sense to me to throw away in the garbage like that.”

The city should usually make every effort to not throw away food and instead reuse it, according to city law, and the Department of Health must first certify that it’s safe to eat.

A DCWP spokeswoman said there was a mistake in the agency’s protocol, leading to the food being trashed.

“The results of this multi-agency vending enforcement are not in line with the City’s policies,” said Abigail Lootens in statement. “DCWP and its sister agencies who assist with confiscations when necessary will work together to ensure this type of wastefulness does not happen again.”

NYPD officers did not make the call to throw away the food, but were at the scene merely to provide security, said a police spokeswoman.

“The inspection was initiated and coordinated by DCWP due to the number of community complaints received by DCWP over a period of time.  The role of the NYPD during the joint inspection was to provide site security and assistance to the DCWP Inspectors if necessary,” said Detective Denise Moroney in a statement.

Hernandez estimates she lost about $10,000-worth of produce from the bust, and electeds called out the city’s harsh enforcement, especially the botched binning of the food.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called the disposal of perfectly-good food “unconscionable.”

“For city agencies to coordinate to throw away the amount of food that I saw on the street, is unconscionable, it’s obnoxious,” said Williams. “The City of New York should be ashamed. Those fruits looked beautiful from what I saw on that video.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams speaks in support of the vendor in the Bronx on Sept. 26. Photo Kevin Duggan

Thousands of unlicensed street vendors have struggled to get an official permit as the city has effectively capped the amount with a lengthy waitlist since the Mayor Ed Koch administration in the 1980s.

A 2019 bill in the state legislature by state Senator Jessica Ramos (D–Queens) and Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas (D–Queens) would seek to lift that limit and make it easier for street vendors to get a permit, but the law hasn’t moved out of committee in two years.

“Our neighbors are experiencing serious food insecurity, and this is how the city responds. Unacceptable,” wrote Ramos on Twitter. “We need to pass my bill, S1175A, and #LegalizeStreetVending.”

Street vendors, many of whom are immigrants and low-income, are often pitted against brick-and-mortar shops, who see them as cutting into their business, but one likely incoming Councilmember to represent the Bronx district next year said that locals should band together to overcome that conflict.

“We need to realize that these are our neighbors, that we are in this together,” said Democratic nominee for Council District 13 Marjorie Velázquez. “We have risen from the ashes, from the Bronx is burning, we will not let lines like this divide us any more.”

This story appears courtesy of our sister publication amNewYork.

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