The sheriff’s department in one California county is being criticized for handcuffing and arresting a street vendor who was selling vegetables.
The incident was captured by a passerby in a picture, which shows a member of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office looking through the man’s belongings, which included more than a dozen boxes and bags of colorful vegetables. Meanwhile, the man sits in handcuffs.
The photo quickly went viral, and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office took to Facebook to try and explain the situation. The vendor did not have a license to sell vegetables, the sheriff’s office said.
“Selling food on street corners violates county ordinances and public health codes,” the post read. “Persistent street vending harms local businesses, especially small, start-up food vendors and poses certain health risks such as E. coli and other food borne illnesses. … In addition, illegal vending causes traffic safety issues and vendors are sometimes the target of street robberies.”
When the deputy approached the man and asked for his identification, he fled.
“The man is on federal probation and is expected to follow all laws. This is likely the reason he tried to flee,” the Facebook post read.
Contrary to what some people suspected, the man’s immigration status was not an issue, because the department doesn’t turn people over to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the department said.
Still, the explanation didn’t appease everyone on Facebook. More than 3,200 people commented.
“It’s a victimless crime,” one person wrote under the department’s post. “So much for the land of the free. Can’t even sell the fruits of your labor. Shame.”
Matt Powers, communications coordinator with the Institute for Justice, wrote that the sheriff’s department’s justifications “have no merit.”
“All produce poses a risk of E. coli due to how they are irrigated at the farm,” Powers wrote. “Therefore, selling such produce at a stand vs. a store is irrelevant. Furthermore, the Sheriff’s office should not be cracking down on these struggling vendors in order to protect the bottom lines of well-established local businesses.”
The law needs to change, Powers added.
“Alameda County should follow the examples set by Chicago and Los Angeles , which both recently legalized and regulated street vending,” Powers wrote. “In February, Chicago modified licensing requirements for food carts to make them less restrictive, by lowering fees for two year food cart licenses and eliminating charging fees for a license to use a shared kitchen. In the same month, in Los Angeles, the city council voted unanimously to decriminalize street vending for sidewalk vendors.
“… Everyone has the right to work hard and improve themselves and their community. By choosing to embrace the street vending industry, Alameda can embrace this sort of entrepreneurial, self-starting behavior and avoid this kind of controversy from happening ever again.”
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