As people of color across the United States know, an interaction with law enforcement can be perilous. Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold six years ago on a Staten Island sidewalk, was accused of selling cigarettes. Although Mr. Garner was not a licensed vendor, Mr. Attia said police harassment is widespread.
“Why is vending a crime?” Mr. Attia asked. “What city do we live in that making a living is being criminalized?”
Nogaye Lo, a 44-year-old vendor, has also had difficult encounters with the police at her stand in Union Square. Before the coronavirus pandemic, she sold seasonal wares: scarves in the winter, jewelry in the summer.
Now, as demonstrators fill the park almost every night, she sells T-shirts bearing the faces of people who have been killed by the police. On the back, they read, “Black Lives Matter.”
For Ms. Lo, an immigrant from Senegal, the message is personal. She has four sons, and she fears what could happen to them whenever they leave the house.
Officers regularly confront her, issuing tickets and confiscating her merchandise, she said. She has been arrested without cause, she said, and had to spend the night in jail. Once, an officer pushed her, putting his hands on her breasts, she said. He apologized, but she is still furious.
“We’re not animals,” she said. “We’re not garbage. We’re human beings.”
Even though she worries that a civilian agency could impose heavy fines, she fears the police more.