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A Reflection on Bigotry, Safety & the Power of Community for Vendors on the Streets of New York

On Tuesday, a viral incident of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate by a former senior U.S. State Department official brought the world into the experience of New York City street vendors. As workers and business owners making a living in the public realm, racism, classism, and xenophobia are often the norm. Incidents are frequently unreported - because they're either dismissively ignored, or run the risk of retaliation, displacement, and loss of livelihoods.

In the case of Q Halal Cart, the incidents that took place over the last 2 weeks will have a long-lasting impact on the workers, who not only experienced unconscionable racism and bigotry, but were at first treated as if the abuse of working-class immigrants was acceptable. The vendors were initially afraid to report the harassment, fearing they'd be displaced from their vending location if nearby building owners caught wind, as had been tried once before. As the harassment increased in frequency, they attempted to report it - but were told by the NYPD: “We can't do anything, this is New York."

But New Yorkers took a stand, and the outpouring of support from neighbors of all walks of life who spoke out against this vile treatment has breathed hope into the vending community and our City at large.

The Street Vendor Project sprung into rapid response, guiding Islam, Mohamed, and their coworkers through the fear associated with the sudden attention, translating information into Arabic, providing legal support to file a harassment claim, and making sure the vendors know that there’s a 3,000-member organization that has their backs.

And New Yorkers proved the bonds of a neighborhood are stronger than hate - as shown by a bystander who defended the vendors during one of the incidents, and a kind neighbor who brought out a table for supporters to gather around. These are everyday heroes who hold our City together, who affirm that Q Halal Cart, and the vendor community at large, are welcomed and loved.


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