Protest held in support of woman handcuffed while selling churros inside Brooklyn subway station

Wednesday, November 13, 2019
EMBED <>More Videos

Tim Fleischer reports on the protest planned in support of the woman.

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT, Brooklyn (WABC) -- There was another protest Wednesday at the Broadway Junction subway station in Brooklyn, where a woman selling churros was handcuffed and taken into police custody over the weekend.

Elsa Morochoduchi, 43, received a summons and was released, but video of the incident went viral and prompted demonstrations.

Transit riders, street vendors, advocates, and elected officials turned out in protest of plans to add 500 more police officers inside stations and to call for a a moratorium on issuing summonses.

In attendance was another woman who sells churros named Carmita who says she has a license and still gets ticketed.

"I sell churros out of necessity because of my kids," she said. "I have a license, and every time I try to sell, I get a ticket. A thousand, a thousand, a thousand. I have fines up to $12,000 for only trying to sell churros. We have a necessity, because we have kids. We have to maintain our kids. We get a lot of tickets, and we can't pay them. A thousand, a thousand, a thousand. The license doesn't do anything. They take license and still give us tickets. I have tickets up to $12,000 I can't pay. We need help."

The NYPD cited resistance as being a cause of the notable incidents.

"The common thread is lack of cooperation," NYPD Transit Chief Ed Delatorre said. "We need the citizenry, our riders, and everyone else in the city to work with us and help us de-escalate these situations. When people don't follow our requests or commands, there's potential for escalation."

Still, critics are seeking several changes.

"I'm demanding right now that the city actually put a moratorium and have a conversation about what exactly enforcement means," City Councilman Antonio Reynosa said.

Another big issue, they say, is that the city in 1983 capped the number of vendor permits at 4,000.

"Since then, they haven't issued any more permits," said Mohamed Attia, director of The Street Vendor Project. "So it is illegal for vendors to sell without a permit, but also the city is not offering them."

Before both the City Council and the state legislature, there are two proposals to lift the cap on vendor licenses. One is sponsored by state Senator Jessica Ramos.

"Thank you, especially to the bravery of the Latinas and every other street vendor who continues to exist because sometimes our existence is resistance," she said.

Earlier this week, a protest was held to demand that MTA resources not be diverted to policing from bus and subway service and that existing enforcement efforts focus on serious crime rather than criminalizing low-income food vendors and teenagers traveling home from school.

"A lot of problems are happening on the subways, but over-policing is not going to solve them," Attia said. "It's going to create more problems. We need an alternative solution. We need the vendors to be able to work legally where they can work. It is not acceptable that vendors are being criminalized for making a living."

Much of the encounter with police officers Friday night was caught on cell phone video by subway rider Sofia Newman.

"'You're literally doing this right now?'" she says in the video. "'Are you (expletive) kidding me? She's just trying to sell some stuff.'"

Elsa said she has been selling the pastry for the last three years, and police say she has been issued summonses 10 previous times.

"She was very nervous, very stressed and absolutely devastated," said Wilfredo Florentino, acting as Elsa's translator. "At that point, he forcibly tried to remove the cart from her, and she said please don't do that and he removed it anyway."

This time, they confiscated her cart and the churros.

"They took absolutely everything away from her," Florentino said. "She left crying and broken."

MTA Transit President Andy Byford said enforcement of such issues is a work in progress.

"Working with the New York Police Department, we are trying to get the balance right between letting people get a living but also providing a safe clean environment for our customers and a hassle free journey for our customers," he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had also seen the video.

"We've got to work towards the day where we really engage the community in general, to also be clear to members of the community," he said. "That is not an acceptable behavior. So it never comes down to this."


* More Brooklyn news

* Send us a news tip

* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts

* Follow us on YouTube