The woman received a summons and was released, but video of the incident went viral and prompted the demonstration.
Transit riders, street vendors, advocates, and elected officials demanded 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.
The rally was not only in support of Elsa, but also in support of allowing these vendors to obtain licenses.
"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."
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.
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."
At the subway station, protesters rallied in support of transit improvements and lifting a city cap on vendor licenses.
"We need the vendors to be able to work legally where they can work," said Mohamed Attia, director of the Street Vendor Project.
Meanwhile, another woman selling churros was handcuffed at the Myrtle Avenue/Wyckoff Avenue station in Brooklyn Monday.
Authorities say the 41-year-old woman was approached by police while selling on the L line around noon.
She was instructed to leave the station, but officers then ran her name and learned she had an outstanding warrant.
She was taken to the precinct for processing on the warrant violation.
Police say she had previously been issued two summons for selling churros without a license but then failed to show up for court.
The warrant was then issued.
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