Video of a woman being arrested for selling churros in a New York City subway Friday has drawn a critical eye on policing of the public transit service.
Bystander Sofia Newman recorded the woman being arrested and posted the interaction on Twitter, where it has been viewed at least 1.8 million times. The unidentified woman was selling churros in the subway without a license and taken into custody by what appeared to be four NYPD officers.
Newman asked officers in the video why the woman was being arrested, and pointed out that the woman was crying. An officer told Newman that it was illegal to sell food inside the subway.
“Can she just go outside and keep her stuff?” Newman asked.
“No,” the officer said.
In a now-viral thread, Newman said one of the officers mocked the woman and rolled his eyes at her after she attempted to speak in Spanish to another cop.
“No matter what the law says, there is no reason why that many officers needed to encircle, demean, and police the poverty of that woman of color,” Newman wrote. “It was an abuse of power, and yet another example of how broken our system is.”
The NYPD said in a statement that the arrest Friday was a response to numerous complaints about unlicensed vendors at the Broadway Junction station in Brooklyn due to health concerns. Police said the woman in the video had received 10 summons in the last five months for unlicensed food sales at the Broadway Junction stop.
She was told in both English and Spanish that she would be given a summons during the arrest Friday and her cart would be taken for evidence, according to the NYPD.
“She refused to cooperate and was briefly handcuffed; officers escorted her into the command where she was uncuffed,” the police statement said. “Her property was vouchered as arrest evidence and she was released within minutes.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer tweeted Newman’s video and said that the incident raises “serious questions” about increased police presence in the subways.
“This kind of enforcement doesn’t make anyone safer,” Stringer wrote.
Stringer’s criticism was echoed in statements from other city officials, including New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“Over-policing our subways isn’t going to solve anything,” Johnson said on Twitter. “We can keep the subway safe without harming people just trying to earn a living.”
Fellow city council member Brad Lander tweeted that subway policing “shows how cruel & corrosive criminalizing poverty is.”
“We don’t want to be a city where we pay public servants to arrest churro vendors,” Lander said. “But we are. Thanks @SofiaBNewman for standing up for her, and our better selves.”
Friday’s arrest comes amid heightened scrutiny of what critics have called the over policing of New York City’s subway system. Hundreds protested the NYPD’s presence on the public transit system on Nov. 1 by marching in Brooklyn, chanting “No justice, no peace.”
The outrage was in part a response to a different viral video in which a teenager was arrested after armed police officers swarmed a subway car. The young man was Adrian Napier, 19, according to NBC New York.
Officers said that Napier ran when they approached him and then onto a 4 train, which was eventually stopped at Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn.
Napier was arrested for jumping the subway turnstile and charged with theft of service, but police said in a statement that the massive police presence was in response to a report of a man with a gun near Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, according to NBC New York.
In the video, Napier could be seen with his hands up before police entered the subway car and asked one bystander to call his mother.