Viral video of NYPD arresting woman selling churros in subway draws outrage

The unidentified woman was selling churros in the subway without a license and taken into custody by what appeared to be four city police officers.

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By Doha Madani

Video of a woman being arrested as she was selling churros in a New York City subway Friday has drawn a critical eye on policing of the public transit service.

Sofia Newman, a bystander, 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, who was selling churros in the subway without a license, was taken into custody by what appeared to be four city police 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 tried to speak in Spanish to another officer.

"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."

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The New York Police Department said in a statement that the arrest was a response to numerous complaints about unlicensed vendors at the Broadway Junction station in Brooklyn because of 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 English and Spanish that she would be given a summons during the arrest Friday and that her cart would be taken for evidence, according to police.

"She refused to cooperate and was briefly handcuffed; officers escorted her into the command where she was uncuffed," the 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 the incident raised "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 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."

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 overpolicing of the subway system. Hundreds of people protested the police 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 officers swarmed a subway car. The young man was identified as Adrian Napier, 19, according to NBC New York.

Officers said Napier ran when they approached him and then onto a 4 train, which was eventually stopped at Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn.

Napier was accused of jumping the subway turnstile and charged with theft of service. Police said in a statement that the massive police presence was in response to a report of a man with a gun near Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, according to NBC New York.

In the video, Napier could be seen with his hands up before police entered the subway car and asked a bystander to call his mother.