If you’ve ever spent much time in California, you’ve probably seen the local fruit vendors selling their delicious wares on street corners of small towns and big cities alike. Given that America is a country that prides itself on producing and supporting businesspeople, you would think that such enterprising men and women would be celebrated.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Thanks to restrictive laws, many outdoor fruit vendors find themselves at odds with law enforcement. For the “crime” of selling fruit on the street, they face the potential of being hit with hefty fines and even arrests.
Street vending has a long, proud tradition in this country and across the world. Many California outdoor fruit vendors are Mexican immigrants or the descendants of immigrants and have brought with them a history of selling food and wares to happy passersby.
The fact that many fruit vendors are Hispanic has added another layer of bitterness to the conflict over whether or not outdoor fruit vending should be legal. To many in the community, police crackdowns on vendors aren’t just about preventing them from doing business; they are seen as targeted attacks on a minority community.
Law enforcement officials vehemently deny this charge, but the perception that the targeting of fruit vendors is motivated as much by race as it is by health or licensing concerns adds even more incentive to find a way to relieve the situation.
Street Vendors Campaign
Fortunately for street vendors and their customers, a change in attitude seems to be developing. In 2013, Los Angeles was one of the biggest major American cities to have laws against street vending, and LAPD made 1,200 arrests related to street vending that year alone.[i] Fast forward to 2017, and the city council voted unanimously to decriminalize street vending, to the cheers of fruit sellers and other vendors.[ii] A similar change took place in 2012 when California adopted new laws that decriminalized the act of selling certain home-baked goods commercially.[iii]
Despite the victory in LA, many California fruit vendors still find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Earlier this year, a photo of a police officer in Alameda County arresting an outdoor fruit vendor caused dismay for the community.
Rather than being just another quiet arrest, the photo soon went viral, drawing more than 900 comments, most of them critical of the police for what commenters saw as heavy-handed tactics and unfair targeting of someone just trying to earn a living.