The arrest of a "churro lady" in a New York City subway station has caused outrage in the US with many criticizing the police for unnecessarily harassing an old woman.
The woman, identified as Elsa, was arrested by the New York Police Department on Saturday for illegally selling churros on the Broadway Junction station in Brooklyn.
Churros are baked, sugary snacks, originally eaten in Spain and Portugal among other places and Elsa had been selling them at the same spot for almost three years. However, on Saturday, four cops approached the woman and handcuffed her. They also took away her churro stand.
A video of the incident, filmed by the bystander has been going viral on social media since, causing outrage against the cops. Sofia B Newman took to Twitter to protest against the cops' behaviour, claiming that Elsa allegedly had trouble speaking English and constantly tried to speak to the officers in Spanish, only to be met with derision.
Elsa was given two options - to give up the cart and pay a hefty fine or court arrest along with confiscation of the cart.
Tonight as I was leaving Broadway Junction, I saw three or four police officers (one of them was either a plainclothes cop or someone who worked at the station) gathered around a crying woman and her churro cart. Apparently, it's illegal to sell food inside train stations. 1/? pic.twitter.com/sgQVvSHUik— Sofia B. Newman (@SofiaBNewman) November 9, 2019
They were telling her that she could either give them her churro cart and receive a fine (one that she probably wouldn't have been able to afford), or that they would take her cart and arrest her. 2/?— Sofia B. Newman (@SofiaBNewman) November 9, 2019
She kept trying to speak to one of the cops in Spanish, but the plainclothes cop kept rolling his eyes and saying things like, "Are you done?" and "I know you can speak English." Eventually, they cuffed her and unceremoniously dragged her and her cart away. 3/? pic.twitter.com/qVIfN7DO7u— Sofia B. Newman (@SofiaBNewman) November 9, 2019
"No matter what the law says, there is no reason why that many officers needed to encircle, demean, and police the poverty of that woman of color. It was an abuse of power, and yet another example of how broken our system is," Newman wrote. Though the video was posted without Elsa's consent, Newman hoped the footage would help Elsa receive more support.
The videos, which show the tearful woman being led away in handcuffs by the cops, led to widespread debate on social media. Many such as Newman called the cops' behvaviour with a poor woman of colour as an example of abuse of power. Some even called for a re-evaluation of laws that caused harassment to people instead of helping them.
I don’t care what my job is, if one day I found my self robbing a old lady’s churro cart and making her cry, I’d quit the next day. How could you keep doing this to people? pic.twitter.com/tbZDbYRhrP— Stuart (@LeftHandStu) November 9, 2019
If you’re not on the side of churros, you need to re-evaluate your life. Our laws demonstrate our values in society - what we protect and what we penalize reflects who we are. I don’t want to live in a society where churro ladies aren’t allowed on the subway.— Victoria Cambranes (@VECambranes) November 9, 2019
Though I know this happens daily, this video thread of NYPD harassing and arresting a churro vendor honestly made me nauseous.The gratuitous cruelty. The latent racism. The gross classism. The waste of public resources.The violence of it all. https://t.co/NFTqFRNGx4— Kumar Rao (@KumarRaoNYC) November 9, 2019
The subway ovepolicing we’ve been watching in recent days shows how cruel & corrosive criminalizing poverty is. We don’t want to be a city where we pay public servants to arrest churro vendors. But we are. Thanks @SofiaBNewman for standing up for her, and our better selves. https://t.co/wZcGd60kgK— Brad Lander (@bradlander) November 9, 2019
New Yorkers also defended the allegation that the churro lady's presence at the station caused congestion.
Right. So it’s the churro ladies that are creating congestion. Not the fact that there are not enough trains running and more frequesnt issues and delays with the trains that are running, right @NYCMayor @NYGovCuomo ? Is that really your take on this? https://t.co/aw7LbtRRTY— Jen. (@originaljaytee) November 12, 2019
People like this woman selling churros rarely get to tell their stories in their own voice while rich tech companies have all the money to spin. And also feel a kind of way of her being reduced to a churro lady. Always thinking of autentic ways to elevate stories like hers.— Lynda Lopez (@Lyndab08) November 11, 2019
No. Ubers cause congestion. Delayed subways cause congestion. Clusters of militarized cops on the subway platform cause congestion. Churro ladies cause happiness and help keep NYC special. https://t.co/xhU4HqAy4S— Nomiki Konst🌹 (@NomikiKonst) November 12, 2019
On Monday, several protesters took to the streets in NYC to protest the over-policing of the subway. Elsa, who was released from custody soon after the arrest, told reporters that the cops had behaved aggressively with her. She also blamed them for taking away her churro cart, which was of a lot of value to the seller.
However, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio defended the NYPD cops on Monday when he doubled down upon the churro lady, stating that the woman had been warned before and that she had continued with the activity despite being told it was illegal.
Mayor on NYPD arrest of churro seller in subways: "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.” pic.twitter.com/sniorGb7Ns— Yoav Gonen (@yoavgonen) November 11, 2019
The NYPD also released a statement on Twitter clarifying that the woman had, in fact, not been arrested on Saturday but was merely detained. The statement also insisted that the handcuffs that were put on Elsa were removed almost immediately after the video ended.
Regarding the vendor our officers approached at the Broadway Junction station: She was not arrested, she received a summons- She’s received 10 summonses in the past 6 months and both English & Spanish speaking officers spoke with her...— NYPD Transit (@NYPDTransit) November 10, 2019