Five street vendors announced Wednesday morning they are suing the NYPD and the city after they claim their goods and wares were illegally seized in a sweep of lower Broadway by uniformed and plainclothes police officers.
The May 17 raid occurred on the west side of Broadway between Prince and Broome streets, said Matt Shapiro, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project, who is representing the five vendors.
Abibou Gueye, a licensed vendor who sells jewelry, sunglasses and bags on Broadway between Spring and Broome, says he has been there in his “legal spot” for ten years, and this is the first time anything like this has happened.
“They’re allowed to give tickets, but not take your stuff,” Gueye says.
The police are authorized to seize goods in the event that someone is vending without a license or on a restricted street, explained Shapiro.
But the tickets the cops gave out on May 17 cite different violations, such as for being less than twenty feet from a building entrance. All of the vendors ticketed were licensed, and in the case of food vendors, had the necessary permits as well, Shapiro said.
“The police came and said, ‘Give me your license,’” Gueye recalled. “Half an hour later I went and said, ‘Can you give me back my license?’ They said, ‘No, you have to close.’”
Eventually the police did return Gueye’s license, but they also gave him a ticket and informed him they were taking his items into custody.
Gueye was able to recover his things the following day, as were most of the vendors, but not in the same condition he’d left them.
“A lot of the earrings were broken when I got them back, the sunglasses, too,” he said. He doesn’t think the goods were damaged out of any malicious intent, but, “They’re just very fragile,” he said.
Now the five vendors are seeking monetary damages for violations of constitutional rights, lost income, and property damage.
Gueye expressed frustration with the police-vendor relationship. "[The police] are so powerful, you cannot fight with them," he said. "We're vendors, we have no power."
Complaints from SoHo residents
Shapiro said he believes the raid came about as a result of complaints registered at Community Board meetings by residents on Broadway in the months prior to May.
The Street Vendor Project brought some vendors to a Community Council meeting at the beginning of the summer, where Shapiro recalls some residents complain about crowding and the amount of vendors.
Do storeowners dislike the street vendors?
While those who live in SoHo may complain about the street vendors, employees at some stores in the area don't take issue with them.
A store manager on Broadway maintained that the stores have no problem with the vendors, saying, "They're not even near our door, and they don't sell goods that compete with ours."
An employee at a different store on Broadway confirmed that the vendors and the brick-and-mortar businesses have good relationships: "We have no problem with the vendors, they often help out with our events and support us," she said.