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The High Crimes of Selling Churros and Loosies in NYC

Within about a half hour of going into an apartment complex in Harlem in New York City, I came out to hundreds of demonstrators chanting at the entrance to the ramp that leads to the Madison Avenue Bridge. That ramp connects the boroughs of the Bronx and Manhattan. Some protesters held signs reading Black Lives Matter.

About six protesters had sought refuge in a courtyard where I stood near the dozens of police who formed lines blocking the ramps’ access to the marchers. The police formed a phalanx at both the bridge’s entrance and exit ramps. An apartment security guard tried to force the protesters back out onto the street. I tried to find out about the march from one protester, as the security guard shouted at the protesters.

One person among the protesters in the courtyard explained that the march was in response to police harassment of individual vendors who sold food in nearby subway stations to make ends meet. Fifty-eight protesters were arrested during that demonstration. Rather than categorize the protest as support for subway vendors, the New York Post headlined the protest as anti-policeA fearless woman videoed the arrest and harassment of the vendor who had been arrested at a nearby subway station a few weeeks earler.

Watching the video of the subway arrest, scenes of the harassment and murder of Eric Garner came to mind. Here, in the subway, were cops harassing and dehumanizing a person trying to make a few bucks to survive. One cop taunts the vendor for speaking Spanish, or rather, for not speaking English.

Out on the street, I walked by one of the police lines. These were not riot cops. They wore protective gear, including helmets and there were scores of them. Protesters chanted on and beside 135th Street near the bridge access.

Once inside of the 125th Street Metro North Railroad Station, the number of subway police and regular police amounted to dozens. I walked to the center of the station and spoke with two subway police. Most of the police inside the station lined the perimeter of the railroad station’s lobby.

I took the elevator up to the tracks to wait for the arrival of a train. I got into a conversation with a man who said that the city funded the enormous policing system which was also a boon to public and private prisons. I mentioned that money spent on the police in the city could go toward funding social programs. The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, recently announced a plan to increase the funding for police in the city that would add more police to the streets. As readers may be well aware, there never can be enough money to fund police in their relentless search for those who sell loose cigarettes on the streets, or sugared fried dough in the subways to survive.

Most realize the extreme dangers that churro vendors pose to the public. And where was the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, in all of this?

The insanity of police power, racism among police, police wilding, which many police embrace no matter their individual background, have combined over many decades and allow some police and their puppet masters to enforce a regime at odds with democratic principles, the right to earn a living, and the right to exist unmolested. More law and order has long been the bipartisan chant of those in power, or contending for power, with the biggest dog whistles.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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