The New York City Council is considering a bill that would displace 22 street vendors who work near the World Trade Center, the site of the attacks on September 11, 2001. The legislation has the support of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), which has expressed concerns explosives could be hidden in the vendor’s carts or in customers' backpacks, and that they are too close to NYPD vehicle checkpoints.
To the Street Vendors Project, a group that advocates for vendors, this bill reeks of Islamophobia. Of the 22 vendors that would be affected, 18 are Muslim. Most are immigrants and people of color. And their suspicions are understandable. Public discourse around ground zero has often been rife with Islamophobic rhetoric. The NYPD itself has been widely criticized for its surveillance of Muslims.
In this context, it’s troubling that the NYPD has so far not offered any evidence that the presence of these vendors poses a safety risk, nor any other clear justification for the measure. The City Council should carefully weigh whether the NYPD’s concerns really justify threatening the livelihoods of these vendors.
“If these vendors lose their spots, they won’t be able to work anywhere else,” said Mohamed Attia, co-director of the Street Vendor Project, who previously worked as a vendor for nine years. “Some of the vendors have been there for more than 20 years and it takes so long to build up business in the street. This bill threatens their livelihoods.”
“If they forced me to move from this corner, I would have to go back to SoHo, and I know the realtors there will try to kick me out of the area,” said Samuel, a street vendor from Chile selling honey roasted nuts.
Raheem, originally from Afghanistan, has worked as a street vendor in the neighborhood for the past 12 years, and told the Street Vendor Project that every morning he provides breakfast for the homeless individuals in the area.
Carla, who was raised in Texas and is originally from Mexico, sells hats and other general merchandise. As a veteran dealing with PTSD, Carla says working as a street vendor has been important for her health and her family: “This job allows me to meet new people every day. It has helped my depression. I desperately need this location for my own health and to support my family.”