UCPD’s priorities, systemic racism underlie viral food vendor incident

Franchesca Spektor/Staff

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On Sept. 9, a video of UCPD Officer Sean Aranas writing a citation for and taking earnings from a street vendor was posted on Twitter. This street vendor was selling hot dogs from his cart during UC Berkeley’s first home football game of the season when two officers found that he wasn’t permitted to be selling. As Aranas pulls cash out of the vendor’s wallet, the man recording asks incredulously, “You’re going to take his hard earned money?” to which Aranas nonchalantly replies, “Yup.” The vendor clearly doesn’t understand the situation and doesn’t seem to speak English fluently. He is offered no explanation.

Children selling lemonade or cookies on the street don’t get ticketed or have their earnings confiscated. People of color don’t get a warning — instead, they become the example. The fear in the vendor’s eyes speaks to a shared dread that many people of color experience in the face of law enforcement.

I’m completely distraught over Aranas’s lack of compassion. I understand his decision to ticket the vendor for not having a permit to sell, but why not just leave it that? Why did the officer feel it was necessary to go through his wallet and take his cash as “evidence” when he had already administered punishment? This entire situation should have been handled differently.

Many will argue that street vendors pose a threat through possible violations to health regulations. I agree, but there are certainly more pressing issues at stake on a game day, when intoxicated members of our community roam the streets freely. The officers in the video are wasting time that could be focused on monitoring such individuals and keeping them safe from vehicles and more immediate dangers. Instead, they choose to harass a hardworking man merely trying to make an earning for himself.

I am sickened by UCPD officers’ priorities. Last year, there were three reported sexual assaults at a single event in UC Berkeley’s Greek Theatre. In addition, rates of assaults and robberies are escalating, but the officers seem to be more concerned with an unthreatening vendor than ensuring the prevention of such crimes. My sister is a current UC Berkeley student, and I am constantly in fear of her safety. This depiction of police officers horrendously misidentifying the most prominent dangers in a high-risk situation has exacerbated my concern for her and her peers’ wellbeings.

Furthermore, the vendor’s lack of a permit speaks to a larger problem of administrative loopholes that impede those who are not fluent in English from obtaining such licenses. We cannot simply shrug off the vendor’s situation and blame him for his lack of proper documents if we perpetuate a system that makes accessibility to such nearly impossible.

An officer taking advantage of his authority to violate an individual’s rights through unlawful search and seizure is something that should never happen. It’s terrifying to think that the officers responsible believed that all their actions were appropriate for the situation and that their attentions were well-focused to the most prominent dangers at hand. And worst of all, we yet again witness the continuous and systematic marginalization of immigrants and people of color.

Serina Rodriguez is a college student in the Bay Area.