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Diana Hernandez Cruz, a Bronx-based food vendor whose produce stand was destroyed last week over a missing permit, speaks at a rally to legalize street vending on September 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo: Nathalia Fernández via Twitter)

Diana Hernandez Cruz, a Bronx-based food vendor whose produce stand was destroyed last week over a missing permit, speaks at a rally to legalize street vending on September 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo: Nathalia Fernández via Twitter)

'Quite Literally What Instigated the Tunisian Revolution': Outrage After NYC Food Vendor's Stall 'Trashed'

"The abuse of street vendors will continue until there is legislative change, creating a pathway for New York City's smallest businesses to formalize."

Kenny Stancil

Bronx residents rallied in support of Diana Hernandez Cruz this weekend after New York City officials raided the longtime food vendor's stall because she lacked a permit—throwing away large quantities of fruits and vegetables in a neighborhood where hunger is widespread.

 "The city of New York should be ashamed."
—Jumaane Williams, New York City Public Advocate

The Street Vendor Project—a membership-based organization working to advance the rights of New York City's 20,000 street vendors who have been harmed in recent years by the city's "agressive 'quality of life' crackdown"—compiled a video thread that shows sanitation workers, reportedly deputized by the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and supervised by police officers, dumping produce into a garbage truck last Thursday.

"Thousands of dollars worth of oranges, tomatoes, and other fruits trashed," said the group. "Taken from an immigrant woman entrepreneur, already hard hit by the pandemic. The systemic abuse of our city's micro-businesses and disregard for hunger is a travesty."

Alluding to Mohammed Bouazizi, a downtrodden fruit vendor whose early 2011 death by self-immolation helped spark the Arab Spring, artist and author Molly Crabapple shared one of the videos and said, "This is quite literally what instigated the Tunisian revolution."

Following the trashing of Hernandez Cruz's stand, community members, including some lawmakers, attended a rally on Sunday to defend street vendors and push for legalization.

"Yesterday we stood in solidarity against the city's actions toward Diana and her fruit stand," New York Assemblymember Nathalia Fernández (D-80) said Monday. "An inspection le[d] to the loss of hundred of pounds of fresh food in a community that is starving. We need policy changes that will create an environment that welcomes and protects vendors."

Supporters created a fundraiser through which individual donors can help offset Hernandez Cruz's lost income, though Daniel Altschuler—co-executive director of Make the Road Action, which advocates for immigrant rights—said that the city should still compensate her.

According to the fundraiser, Hernandez Cruz had "previously tried to apply for a mobile food vendor permit for the city to formalize her business, but due to the cap on mobile food vendor permits she was told she could not get one."

AMNY reported:

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 [the city's Department of Sanitation (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," Hernandez Cruz told the news outlet. "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."

"Stop criminalizing. Stop throwing away food in our hungriest borough. Start enabling vendors to thrive."
—Emerita Torres, Community Service Society of New York

If the Department of Health certifies food as safe to eat, the city is supposed to "make every effort to not throw away food and instead reuse it," AMNY noted. 

City spokesperson Abigail Lootens said in a statement that "the results of this multi-agency vending enforcement are not in line with the city's policies."

"DCWP and its sister agencies who assist with confiscations when necessary will work together to ensure this type of wastefulness does not happen again," she added.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams argued that the decision to discard quality food was unacceptable.

"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."

Urging New Yorkers to support vendors by calling on their state representatives to sponsor Senate Bill 1175A and Assembly Bill 5081A, the Street Vendor Project stressed that "the abuse of street vendors will continue until there is legislative change, creating a pathway for New York City's smallest businesses to formalize."

New York Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas (D-34) argued that Hernandez Cruz was "criminalized and penalized because of poverty" and implored her colleagues in the state Legislature to "create a fair street vending license program" by backing her bill, A5081A.

"Stop criminalizing," Emerita Torres of the Community Service Society of New York said Monday. "Stop throwing away food in our hungriest borough. Start enabling vendors to thrive."


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