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Street vendors accuse LAPD of harassment

LOS ANGELES — Street vendors and their supporters staged a protest outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters March 31, alleging a rise in harassment by police even as city leaders weigh a possible street-vendor permitting program.

Two street vendors and attorneys from the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign also delivered a “citizen’s citation” issued to Police Chief Charlie Beck that lists violations such as verbal harassment, intimidation and confiscation of street vendor property.

“Our work is innocent. None of us are criminals,” Pacoima-area vendor Alfonso Garcia told LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith.

“And our work — our families totally depend on what we’re doing,” Garcia, who sells Jalisco-style food, said through a translator.

Garcia added that street vendors “want legalization so that we can go to work with peace and tranquility, and so that we can also contribute to the city, with the corresponding … payments, like taxes.”

The group asked that the citation be delivered to Beck, who they hope will enact a citywide ban on issuing citations to street vendors, similar to an agreement made with a Rampart Division captain for the MacArthur Park area.

Under the agreement, MacArthur Park vendors are allowed to operate without being cited, as long as they do not block access on sidewalks and business entrances, and do not sell pirated or illegal goods, the vendors said.

“We’d like this [agreement] all over the city of L.A.,” National Lawyers Guild attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker said on behalf of the vendors.

The Rampart Division agreement was reached about three weeks ago, according to Juan Rodriguez, an organizer who worked with the MacArthur Park vendors.

Smith responded that he “echoes” the Rampart Division captain in requiring that sidewalks and entrances be kept clear and no pirated goods be sold, but “beyond that, we’ve met several times” with National Lawyers Guild members and other groups to come to “some type of resolution, so that we can all work together, you can make money and make a fair living in Los Angeles.”

Beck, responding to a question about whether he would support the citywide moratorium requested by the group, told reporters that the department is awaiting instruction from City Council on the issue of street vending.

“That’s up to the council,” Beck said. “We will abide by the council’s actions on this just as we do now.”

The City Council’s Economic Development Committee is debating the issue and a task force has been meeting regularly to craft the proposed street vendor permitting program.

In the meantime, protesters said they want a halt to harassment by police.

“We’re here today to demand that LAPD stop its continual harassment of street vendors in the city of Los Angeles,” said Xiomara Corpeno, a director of community education at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

“We are at the cusp of passing a resolution to finally legalize street vending, yet they continue to harass street vendors, giving them tickets that actually don’t have to do with vending sometimes, threatening them and making their ability to make a living almost impossible,” she said.

Police officers have been known to follow vendors home, fail to document items they confiscate and allow health officials to toss food items into the garbage, according to the activists.

Anderson-Barker, who accompanied the street vendors to deliver the citation, said she plans to meet with City Attorney Mike Feuer to talk about cases their group documented of street vendor harassment by the LAPD.

She said “enforcement abuses” were documented during legal clinics held by the lawyers guild, adding that recent cases involving confiscation of property belonging to homeless people on Skid Row could also apply to street vendors.

“Our push-back on the LAPD is if you’re going take this property youhave to document it, give people receipts and give them a way to get it back,” Anderson-Barker said.

“I think the LAPD … realize there’s no way they can enforce the street vending municipal code fairly and legally,” Anderson-Barker said.

“They don’t have the resources. I think today they will consider doing what the Rampart [captain] has told us he’ll do.”