Thursday, October 15, 2009

Avending Angels

Another day, another story about fighting street vendors-this time in City Room where strife in East Flatbush is reported: "Police officers arrested four immigrant street vendors last week in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, in the latest development in a six-month street drama that has included arrests, neighborhood complaints, tickets, summonses and even an alleged knife fight. On Tuesday, vendors and their advocates staged a protest against what they call police harassment, while the Police Department defended its handling of the tense situation."

All of the fighting devolves from the opaque nature of the city''s regulatory regime-something we have chronicled here, here, and here-as well as the almost complete absence of effective enforcement. And now the vendors are complaining about the police: "Police officers have been closely monitoring the stretch of pavement in front of the SUNY Downstate Medical Center since a chicken and rice vendor was charged with assaulting a competitor in mid-September. Their rival carts had been battling over prices for months. Two men were arrested in that case, and one of them, Hamdy Abdelraouf Akl, was again arrested on Thursday, this time charged with disorderly conduct. Mr. Akl, 37, from Egypt, said the police had singled him out unfairly, harassing and threatening him. “We serve the community,” he said. “Our vendors should follow the law, and we think the police officers should follow the law, too.”

Ah yes, the law-but what exaclty is the law, and how should it be enforced so that neighborhoods and small retailers aren't victimized by unmanageable vendor proliferation? That is the subject of an organizing effort being led by the Alliance and an assortmment of community and small business groups. In the weeks and months ahead, we will be helping draft new vendor laws that protect the rights of neighborhoods-as well as the stores that serve them.