Sidewalk vendors in Los Angeles live on subsistence wages earned from an honest day's work. Over the past year, however, these community entrepreneurs have experienced increased police harassment, arrests, onerous criminal justice debt, and even incarceration. These and other findings are documented in a new report issued by law students in UCLA School of Law's Criminal Defense Clinic.
Criminalizing the Sidewalk: Why the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office Should Take Action to Reform the Unjust Treatment of Low-Income Sidewalk Vendors outlines five key reforms that the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office could take to reduce the over-criminalization of low-income sidewalk vendors. Specifically, the report recommends that the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office:
- Cease sidewalk vending prosecutions until the city has adopted new legislation to legalize and regulate vending;
- Dismiss pending sidewalk vending prosecutions;
- Offer a special program to reduce the crippling criminal justice debt that low-income vendors cannot afford;
- Work with the Los Angeles Police Department to prevent unconstitutional seizures of vendors' property; and
- Begin a dialog with community stakeholders to develop a city-wide regime for legal and regulated sidewalk vending.
A broad coalition of Los Angeles community groups and nonprofit organizations join in the report's key recommendations for reform, including the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles; East Los Angeles Community Corporation; Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign; National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles Chapter; Public Counsel; UCLA Downtown Labor Center; Unión del Barrio; and Unión de Vendedores Ambulantes.
"Los Angeles is currently the only major city in the country to have an outright criminal ban on sidewalk vending," said Pui-Yee Yu, one of the UCLA Law student authors of the report. "While representing sidewalk vendors, we were disturbed by how they are treated: their property is seized without warrants, they are harassed by the police and, if convicted, they incur onerous criminal justice debt that most cannot pay," explained Greg Bonett, another student author of Criminalizing the Sidewalk. Ingrid Eagly, director of UCLA's Criminal Defense Clinic added, "We are publishing this report together with a coalition of community groups and nonprofit organizations because policy reform is needed to reduce the over-criminalization suffered by sidewalk vendors in our city."