Outcry after city officials ditched Bronx Street vendor’s fresh groceries

This weekend, locals gathered around a street vendor in the Bronx after the NYPD and the Department of Sanitation confiscated and discarded the seller’s fresh fruit and produce.

The incident, captured in the videos below, shows city officials throwing 36-year-old saleswoman Diana Hernandez Cruz’s food into a garbage truck on the corner of White Plains Road and Pelham Parkway in the Bronx on September 23. Hernandez Cruz was contacted by the NYPD and representatives of the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) who issued her an unlicensed sale violation. (DCWP claims she left the booth before realizing the violation, while Hernandez Cruz says she stayed around, as seen in some videos.)

The NYPD then called the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) to dispose of the food. According to Local Law 171 of 2017, officials should try in good faith to donate confiscated food, but it is advised that a representative from the Department of Health must be present to confirm that the food is safe.

An official from one of the authorities involved said the “chain of custody of the food could not be verified,” which resulted in the food being thrown on the back of a garbage truck.

But in the middle of throwing the food away, DSNY and NYPD gave up on that plan and left the area under pressure from the locals.

“Due to the backlash from the community in support of Diana when DSNY / NYPD threw away pallets of watermelons, papayas and other fruits, enforcement officers were eventually pressured to leave the country,” said Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, assistant director of the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, said Gothamist. “As a thank you to the parishioners who stood by her side, Diana decided to give away the rest of the fruit and vegetables to her neighbors. While the DSNY was throwing the fruit away, Diana made sure that it would at least be distributed to the community. instead of throwing it away. “

Joshua Goodman, a spokesman for DSNY, told Gothamist that the video “shows a snippet of an unfortunate situation in which abandoned material had to be dumped for the safety of the community to keep neighborhoods safe, clean and healthy.”

A DCWP spokesman admitted that a mistake had been made between the three agencies in dealing with the situation.

“The results of this cross-agency enforcement of vending machines are not in line with the guidelines of the city,” said DCWP spokeswoman Abigail Lootens. “DCWP and its sister organizations, who help with seizures when needed, will work together to ensure that this type of waste does not happen again.”

A rally on behalf of Hernandez Cruz was held in the Bronx on Sunday, protesting both food waste and the unfair treatment of a so-called small business in the neighborhood.

“I’ve been working here in the heat, in the snow for five years to support my children. I am a single mother. it was very unfair, “said Hernandez Cruz through a translator at the rally.” I was here, I told them not to throw away the food, but they did it anyway.

People gathering in the Bronx on Sunday

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People gathering in the Bronx on Sunday

Adrian child

Street Vendor Project found that with decades of limiting the number of licenses and permits issued to vendors, “it is nearly impossible to legally enter the industry, effectively criminalizing thousands of small business owners, including Diana, who are forced to work without a permit. though not for lack of trying. “They say that Hernandez Cruz previously tried to apply for a mobile grocery vendor permit, but it was denied.

The city has limited the number of sales licenses to 853 and the waiting list to apply for a permit is currently closed.

Mohamed Attia, executive director of the Street Vendor Project, urges officials to pass the law to legalize street vendors, which would help lower the barrier to entry into the industry.

“What happened on Thursday is an example of the city’s failure on multiple levels. The city has let street vendors down for decades and continues to let them down today, ”said Attia. “As the city recovers from the pandemic, we should take seriously steps to help our smallest businesses instead of criminalizing them and confiscating their goods.”

Earlier this year, the city council passed a bill that would allow around 4,000 additional permits in packages of around 400 to be issued over the next decade from 2022.

During his morning press conference today, Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed disappointment at the way the situation with Hernandez Cruz was handled.

“That was exactly the wrong way [to handle this]”I’m really sad about it,” said de Blasio. “That shouldn’t have happened, I don’t blame anyone or any authority, I think that’s a classic thing of bureaucracies that don’t communicate and don’t use common sense. We have a lot of good quality food, let’s take it to a homeless shelter or a pantry where they can be used. Of course we should never throw it away. “

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