Crackdowns on Food on Public Transit Ignite Bicoastal Outrage Over Selective Policing

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The aggressive policing of food on public transit comes to a head with two viral incidents

Recordings of two separate crackdowns on food on public transit — one in New York, one in the Bay Area — have gone viral, raising questions of selective enforcement of the law, what the police choose to spend resources on, and the policing of food and “quality of life” in public spaces.

On Friday, a woman selling churros in a Brooklyn subway station — a regular sight at that location and other stations throughout New York City — was handcuffed and had her churro cart confiscated. Sofia Newman, who recorded the interaction, told Gothamist: “They had apparently told her a few times that it was illegal to sell food inside a subway station and they were either going to confiscate her churro cart and give her a fine, or they were going to arrest her.” Newman says the group of cops surrounded the crying, Spanish-speaking vendor, eventually handcuffing her and bringing her to the police station. According to an NYPD representative, the vendor was “briefly” handcuffed after “she refused to cooperate.” The woman, who had been reportedly been issued ten summonses in the last five months for unlicensed vending in the same location, was given another summons and released soon thereafter, with her churro cart vouchered as arrest evidence.

On the opposite coast, a man named Steve Foster was handcuffed and detained by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police for eating on the train platform at an East Bay station last Monday. Foster, who is black, says he had been eating a sandwich while waiting for the train when a police officer approached him, allegedly ignoring several other passengers who were eating and drinking. In the video, Foster’s girlfriend, who is behind the cellphone camera, can be heard pointing out that BART sells food below in the station. A BART spokesperson told ABC 7 that Foster was handcuffed and cited for eating; state law prohibits people from eating or drinking in the paid portions of the station and the train.

“I hope they start focusing on stuff that actually matters like people shooting up dope, hopping the BART, people getting stabbed,” Foster told ABC 7. His statement highlights one of the larger issues with both these incidents: in their own words, law enforcement agencies are unequipped, underfunded, and understaffed, so why are they using precious resources to go after individuals — who are often people of color — for generally harmless acts of eating or selling food to make a living? In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s decision to spend an estimated total of hundreds of millions of dollars to employ 500 new cops to crack down on homelessness and “quality of life issues” has sparked protests and outrage. Recent videos have shown NYPD officers drawing their guns at an unarmed teen and throwing a man out of a station for falling asleep on the platform. Perhaps that money could be better spent on strengthening community relationships through measured policing, rather than pummeling fare evaders and arresting churro ladies.

Update: November 11, 2019, 3:15 p.m.: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s response to the handcuffing of the churro vendor: “The facts are she was there multiple times and was told multiple times that’s not a place you can be and it’s against the law and it’s creating congestion and she shouldn’t have been there.”

And in other news…

  • After three years of record-breaking store closures, Subway is rolling out a controversial new policy that requires franchisees to answer to a corporate committee if they decline to renew their five-year leases. [NY Post]
  • The plaintiffs that sued Mississippi over a new law banning plant-based or cell-cultured “meats” from being labeled as such have dropped their lawsuit now that the state revised its labeling regulations. The law now allows for the use of terms like “burger” and “hot dog,” as long as the products are also clearly labeled “plant-based” or something similar. [Food Dive]
  • Six months after Game of Thrones ended… how are we still talking about the Starbucks coffee cup mystery……… [CNN]
  • On the French farmers who supply most of Paris’s cool restaurants. [NYT]
  • Traditional mom-and-pop bakeries are closing across rural France, depriving villages and small towns of both community spaces and daily baguettes. [NYT]
  • Gingerbread people are maybe not the highest priority on the list for improving safety and inclusion of queer people:

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