Books have been written these last few years about the NYPD's illegal policies regarding stop-and-frisk and Muslim surveillance. And rightly so. While Bloomberg's rhetoric toward minority and immigrant communities was benign compared to his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, systematic police abuse reached new highs under Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
But, at the Street Vendor Project, we never hear about stop-and-frisk or spying. Not once has a vendor mentioned these things. Instead, every day, vendors tell us that police officers treat them with disrespect. It doesn't matter where they come from (Egypt, Mexico, China or the U.S.) or what they sell (hot dogs, t-shirts, fusion tacos...) vendors complain that some (not all) police officers address them in a discourteous manner. That they use bad language. That they threaten them with arrest or confiscation of their merchandise.
This kind of low-level abuse degrades vendors as people while also harming the relationship between vendors (who can otherwise act as eyes-and-ears of the police, as we saw with the Times Square car bomb) and the NYPD.
Every time, we encourage our members to whip our their smartphones and record these interactions. Easier said than done! As I discovered, when I was arrested last month, the police don't like to be videotaped. They often retaliate against people who try. And vendors, who work in the same spots every day, are easy targets for repeat ticketing and abuse.
For good reasons, vendors almost never capture these interactions on video. Until now. Finally, one of our members was brave enough to make a video of what he experienced. He has asked us to keep his name private, for fear of further NYPD harassment. But here it is:
Shocking? We think so, too. Funny? Sure. But whether or not this particular officer is disciplined, we hope this video will spur the NYPD to retrain all its officers that street vendors are hard-working people who deserve respect. Not just because it says "Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect" on the side of their patrol car. But because vendors are human beings who engage in honest businesses on the public sidewalk, for the sake of all of us who buy things from them every day.