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Bratton Says He's Confused By Rules Governing Times Square Vendors

By Gwynne Hogan | September 22, 2015 4:50pm
 Dozens of street vendors gathered in front of City Hall calling the council to lift the caps set on the number of street vendors across the city.
Times Square Street Vendors
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CITY HALL — Even NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton admits the rules that govern street vendors are impossibly tricky and confusing.

At a Tuesday press conference, Bratton said that during a crackdown on illegal activity at Times Square, police officers had been tripped up by a barrage of complex, and at times, conflicting regulations. 

“There’s a myriad of rules and regulations that control vending, that control peddling, that control the Elmos of the world and the painted ladies, different agencies involved in issuing those regulations,” he said. "If you’re a certain type of vendor, you can be within 10 feet of the intersection. If you’re another, you can be within 10 feet of the crosswalk."

Food cart workers have complained recently that they have been the collateral victims of Mayor Bill de Blasio's campaign to rid the Cross Roads of the World of topless women.

“What I’d like to see is if we can get the City Council to eventually work with the various agencies to see if we can bring some rhyme and reason to what right now is an extraordinarily confusing and sometimes conflicting rules and regulations,” he told reporters. 

Also on Tuesday in front of City Hall, droves of street vendors, who've felt the brunt of the mayor's enforcement effort, called the City Council to do the same thing.

"We don't feel comfortable out there because of police. They give you tickets for no reason," said Saliou Ndong, 30, who sells pictures near 49th Street and Seventh Avenue, and who said he's gotten seven tickets in the past month. "We are peaceful people, hardworking."

Wearing bright yellow T-shirts with the words "Vendor Power," vendors held up a 30-foot-long, pink fluttering chain of summonses police had written them.

While those gathered hailed from all over the city, Times Square street vendors came out in full force, to protest a recent surge in ticketing in the past month.


Street vendors gather to call city council to lift vendor caps. #streetvendors @streetvendorproject

A video posted by Gwynne Hogan (@fritsyg) on

Some vendors have wracked up dozens of tickets for violations they said don't coincide with the regulations they know from the years they've worked in the area.

"I've been here for 20 years, I know everything by heart." said Faleh Moustafa, 45, who co-owns a Halal cart that he said has been hit with nearly 50 tickets in the past month.

Most of the tickets Moustafa's cart has gotten are because he is too close to a hydrant, though the space applies only for carts in the street not on the sidewalk, and for being too close to a store's entrance, though the measurement only applies if you're directly in front of the door not to either side, according to city regulations.

Several vendors said that the increased contact with police in the past month hasn't always been peaceful.

Mei Fan Shi, 49, a Chinese artist and mother of two, who crafts sculptures of animals made from palm leaves to sell at Times Square, said she was arrested on Sept. 12.

Shi said she was held for two hours at the Midtown North Precinct with her arms handcuffed behind her back, so tightly, that 10 days after the arrest her wrist was still bruised.

She was written a disorderly conduct summons and has a court date coming up on Nov. 4.

"I'm not dangerous. I'm a vendor," Shi said. "I need to pay the rent, I need to take care of my children."

Another vendor, Emam Sakr, 32, who sells Halal food on 47th and Seventh said while an officer was ticketing him on Aug. 27, he pounded Sakr on the back of the head, twisted his arm behind his back and then pushed him forward, causing him to lose his balance and drop his phone, shattering it on the cement below.

“This day when the guy hit me I stayed home [for] three days,” Sakr said. “I was scared to come to work.”

The Citizen's Complaint Review Board confirmed it is investigating the incident. 

Other vendors who turned out Tuesday were there to call on the City Council to overhaul city regulations that capped the amount of vendor permits the city sells.