Why Padma Lakshmi Called A Street Vendor's Arrest 'Appallingly Cruel'

For all the swimming movement of New York City's busiest subway stations and sidewalks, there's almost always one party standing still amidst the chaos: street vendors. Depending on the day, underground commuters might find everything from flowers to artwork to chocolates for sale, but one of the most recognizable members of the city's subterranean marketplace is the person selling sliced mangos and other fresh fruit from a cart. Without a food vending permit, however, these merchants set up shop at the risk of paying a fine to the city, which can cost as much as $1,000 a pop, according to the Street Vendor Project. Sometimes, unlicensed vendors have to pay even stronger consequences. 

Earlier this week, Street Vendor Project posted a video on Twitter that shows María Falcon — who came to NYC from Ecuador 15 years ago, per News 12 New Jersey — getting handcuffed for selling fruit in Brooklyn's Broadway Junction station (via amNewYork). The video sparked outrage on social media, including from celebrity chef Padma Lakshmi, who said of the arrest, "This is appallingly cruel. Handcuffed for selling fruit??"

This wasn't her first arrest

In the video, two police officers confiscate Falcon's cart of mangos and kiwis and lead her out of Broadway Junction in handcuffs. She related to amNewYork Metro that she "felt terrorized." It's not the first time she had an upsetting encounter with the police. Earlier in April, she spoke with News 12 New Jersey about an encounter caught on camera in which officers appeared to mock her English as she told him her address. "To be treated like that, it just makes me feel very humiliated. It's not right when I was just trying to speak what little English I knew in order to help the officer write the ticket," Falcon said. 

According to Falcon, she has at least 10 arrests to her name. A video taken by the vendor after her most recent arrest shows viewers the kinds of provisions she typically sells. "These are the fruits and boxes of chocolates we sell — it takes us three days to sell this box. This is the honorable work we do — we aren't hurting anyone or anything," she says. 

Falcon is by no means the only vendor told to pack up by the police recently. Eater writes that the city's recent "quality of life 'sweep'," which launched last summer, "authorized 500 more cops to swarm the New York City subway system," largely targeting merchants that, according to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, cause "congestion." Clearly, not everyone agrees with him.