Vendors unite to decriminalize unlicensed street vending in DC

Street vendors in D.C. are pushing to decriminalize unlicensed street vending in the District.

The group Vendors United came together in Columbia Heights on Monday, after members of the group said D.C. police threatened to take away a 14-year-old boy from his parents. Vendors United said the threat was made because the family was selling food without a license.

“We’re all here today united as a community, because, as they say, the people united will never be defeated,” Magnolia Alvarez, the boy’s mother, said through a translator at the event. “We don’t want to be harassed by the police anymore.”

Some members of the group said they’ve been selling food, clothes and other goods in Columbia Heights for years.

“I vend because I must — to pay the rent, to pay the lights, to take care of my children so that they don’t go hungry,” Alvarez said.

Vendors United is concerned that a change in representation on the D.C. Council after this year’s election could result in more harmful police encounters and police violence in Ward 1 and its street vendor community. The group condemned candidate and former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary, and endorsed Councilmember Brianne Nadeau in the Ward 1 primary race

“She has a strong record of standing up for us. We are immigrants, we are parents, we are Ward 1 residents, we are your friendly neighborhood street vendors, and we are proud to support a person who has supported us for so long,” the group said in a statement.

Improving policing is a tenet of Czapary’s campaign, and in a Washington Post op-ed titled “No one asked for fewer D.C. police doing more work,” he wrote, “The council must create and fund non-police responses to 911 calls involving nonviolent crisis or conflict.”

“Activists, communities and law enforcement officers all agree: The police do too much. In this time of heightened violent crime, the police need to be laser-focused on one thing and one thing alone: building strong cases against violent offenders.”

During Monday’s rally, Alvarez said she wants more security for her community.

“Working as a street vendor, I’ve been hit, I’ve been abused, and every time I report these incidents to the police, the police are like, ‘Well, you shouldn’t be selling on the street, then,’ and for me, that’s not the solution.”

Thomas Robertson

Thomas Robertson is an Associate Producer and Web Writer/Editor at WTOP. After graduating in 2019 from James Madison University, Thomas moved away from Virginia for the first time in his life to cover the local government beat for a small daily newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio.

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