Politics & Policy

No One Should Be Handcuffed over Churros — So Let’s Change the Law

A chocolate con churros is seen at the Chocolat bar in Madrid, Spain, 2017 (Paul Hanna/Reuters)
Sometimes the best way for the government to help those in need is to stop itself from “helping” them at all. 

A  video of New York City police officers arresting a woman for selling churros in a subway station in Brooklyn on Friday night went viral over the weekend — sparking a lot of outrage on her behalf.

The incident made headlines after New York City resident Sofia B. Newman tweeted the video, along with an explanation of what she’d seen:

 

 

According to the Associated Press, the NYPD claims that the woman in the video had received a total of ten summonses for “unlicensed vending” within the past six months. After she was handcuffed, it reports, the cops ultimately let her go with a ticket — but kept her cart as “arrest evidence.”

Unfortunately, this week’s criminalization-of-churros news didn’t end there. The New York Daily News reported on Monday that another woman had been arrested in Brooklyn for selling churros that morning, too.

Needless to say, these arrests have been the subject of a lot of controversy. The woman who was arrested Friday, who wanted to be identified only as “Elsa,” told reporters (with the help of a translator) on Monday that the officers eventually “became violent” during the incident, and that she had “felt horrible, nervous and stressed” throughout the ordeal. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, on the other hand, insisted that the police had done nothing wrong, that “she was there multiple times and was told multiple times that this [was] not a place you can be and it’s against the law,” that “she shouldn’t have been there,” that what she did was “not acceptable behavior,” and that the NYPD “officers comported themselves properly from what I can see.” The New York Times ran a story with the headline: “A Woman Selling Churros Was Handcuffed. The Police Face a Backlash.” The Daily News did something similar with its piece, “Police accused of ‘overreach’ in arresting churro seller in Brooklyn subway.”

Now, I can’t be sure whether or not the NYPD officers actually “became violent” during the incident with Elsa, as she alleges that they did. I certainly didn’t see that in the video footage, but it’s always a possibility that things happened that weren’t captured. What’s more, I also believe that New York City’s police officers could probably find some more worthwhile things to do than arrest people for selling fried sugar-dough.

Still, I can’t help but notice that something seems to be missing from the conversation: Why does no one seem to be pissed off about the law that gives the NYPD the power to arrest these women, and those like them, in the first place?

Although I would agree that the police shouldn’t be making these sorts of things a priority, we should also take this opportunity to observe how Big Government can hurt the same people that it claims to want to help. Think about it: Liberal politicians often push for stricter government regulation of businesses and then, in the same breath, claim that they’re the party of the “little guy,” of the disadvantaged and the struggling. Here, we see that that isn’t always the case. Here, what the “little guy” needs most from the government is to do less, so that she can do more for herself.

The truth is, stories like this week’s War on Churros serve as evidence against the common misconception that a limited-government philosophy amounts to cold-heartedness, to a cruel disregard (or even outright hatred) for those in this country who are struggling. The truth is, sometimes the best way for the government to help those in need is to stop itself from “helping” them at all.

If you have a problem with women being handcuffed for trying to make a living selling pastries, then good; we agree. So, join me in calling for the law to be changed — so that people can be free to carve out their own living, without fear of arrest, in the country that’s supposed to stand for that exact thing.

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