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Dawn S.

Kissi

Class of 2005

ANe
wCommodi
tyi
nNe
wYor
kCi
ty’
sChi
nat
own

Advisor: Lynda Richardson

Copyright:

Dawn S. Kissi

2005

1
Dawn S. Kissi
Class of 2005
Ma ster’sProjec
t
Advisor: Lynda Richardson

ANe
wCommodi
tyi
nNe
wYor
kCi
ty’
sChi
nat
own

As Wendy Tsay sips her green tea and talks with customers in Cantonese, she keeps a watchful eye on the
corner of Grand Street in lower Ma nh at
tan’sCh inatown . Three New York City Police officers are positioned outside
the Green Point Savings Bank across the street from the enclave she has constructed and for all she knows, more
may be on the way. Her eyes repeatedly dart between the officers and passers by, but she does not move. Her long,
thin black hair is blowing in the January wind and her fingers are turning pink from the cold. She has cut off the tips
of her gloves. The cash and phone cards she handles nearly all day tend to slide in her hands when she keeps her
gloves on. With her fingertips exposed, she has a better grip on the cash, the cards and more importantly, she can
dialh erh usban d’ smobi l
eph on ee as
iershou l
dt roublea r ise
.

It is only one week before the lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, as it is referred to in America. She is
working seven days a week now and later into the night. Her phone card business is picking up as the holiday
approaches and she has made an effort to work late into the night as people shop late and the holiday festivities
begin to take place in Chinatown. Through a translator, she explains that while her English is not very good, she
likes being outdoors. Meeting new people everyday, whether the local Chinese in Chinatown where she lives and
works, or any other customer, helps her speak better and understand the culture in New York City a bit better.

But with her desire to work, meet new people and better her language skills, also lies fear. After being
arrested in the summer of 2004 for selling phone cards (which she claims and offers proof of its legality), this fear
has been heightened since her second arrest late 2004. Upon being handcuffed in broad daylight and having nearly
half of her sellable merchandise taken away from her, she spent 26 hours in jail. After allegedly being denied a
ph on eca l
lwhi l
ei njail
,shewa sr el
eas edf r
om Ne w Yor kCi ty’s5th police precinct with a fine and a warning. But
with no understandable reason as to why she had been arrested and demeaned in public. She was told only that it
could happen again. Recalling her night tin jail, Tsay struggled to explain through a Cantonese speaking translator
just how in-huma nt h
ee xperi
e ncewa sf orh er.“ Iwa ssta ndi
n gu pa lmos tthewh olet i
me ,”Ts aysaid( ofhern igh tin
jail).“Wh e nIg o,theydon ’ttellmemu ch.”

Ts a y’sa rr
esthaspr ovent obepa r
tofal a r
ge rpr oble mi nNew York Ci t
y’sCh inat
own . Phone card vendors
have been targeted by police officers from the local police precinct, the 5th. Police records and carbon copies of
summons esa tt heprecincts howt hereisn owa tl eas
ton ea rres teverywe ekofaph on ec ar
dv en dor
.Ts ay’sa rr
estis
simply part of a campaign in Chinatown to sweep the streets clean of certain vendors.

Lowe rMa nha t
tan’sCh inat
ownh aslon gbee nkn owna sade stination for cheaper, knockoff designer goods.
Handbags, watches, compact discs and designer clothing have long been available (in many varieties) on the
sidewalks lining Canal Street, Bowery and Broadway. Only in the past few years have phone cards grown to become
an ot
herc h eapc ommodi ty wi thinthec ommuni t
y.Wi th Ch ina town’ se x pansion andas more and more new
immigrants settle into the area, the needs of these immigrants and locals alike have grown. Calling home has
become an almost daily ritual for many living and doing business in the area.

As with any neighborhood, expansion brings about new and diverse needs. Nevertheless, street vendors
have become an indispensable part of Chinatown and its economy. The city as a whole has grown familiar and
expectant of vendors on particular streets. Despite this and virtually no complaints from a number of questioned
Chinatown business owners and residents, there have been raids, seizures of sellable merchandise and property, and
numerous arrests of vendors in Chinatown. According to one business owner on Mott Street, and filed police
records, phone card vendors in particular have been at the center of the raids. While New York City pushes ahead
with its quality of life initiative, both licensed and un-licensed vendors are experiencing a new kind of harassment-
ma inlybypol iceof ficersa ndus uallyov erwha tsomea cademi c
sa ndl oca l
sh aver eferredtoa s“ t
rivial”a ndeven
“racist”c ir
cums tan ces.

2
Initiated during the tenure of Ne w Yor kCi tyma yorRu dolphGi uli
ani ,“qual
ityofl i
fe”be c ameapol i
ce
enforcement issue. In attempts to clear sidewalks, curb street noise in certain neighborhoods, and in the former
admi n i
strati
on’ sv iew,i mprovel i
fei nNe wYor kCi ty,cityres iden t
swe r
et icketedf orwha tma nyc ons i
de re
dmi nor
violations such as sitting on milk crates outside of a residential building. The administration went after what they
sawa s“ pe t
tyc r
ime s .
”Fore xampl e ,panha ndler
sonc ert
a i
nc itys treets,the inf amous“ squ eege
eme n ”t hatwou ld
run up to an idling vehicle and traffic and begin to wash the windows while the traffic light remained red and even
those who would set up shop, almost impromptu, to sell merchandise on particular streets. Street peddling came
under fire as well, as complaints of sidewalk congestion throughout the city rose.

But nowhere in the city are the crackdowns as rampant as they are in Chinatown. This, according to the
New York City Police De partme nt
’sOf f
iceof the Deputy Commissioner and Public Information office (DCPI). One
sergeant, KevinFa rrell
,recall
sh istimea sa noffice
rbe forebe i
n gpromot eda ndnotbe i
ngont h e“ be at
”a nymor e
.
“Ch inat
ownh asa lwa ysbe enbu sy,”Fa rrellsaid.“Ifit’snoton ething ,i
t’sa nother.Bu tthata reai skn owna sa
hotbed. Sure, stuff is happening all over where the vendors are. Harlem, East Harlem and even in some Bronx
ma rket
s.Bu tlowe rMa nhatt
ani sbu sy.”

And it is in Chinatown that phone card vendors have set up shop in large numbers. From street corner to
store fronts to within stores, phone card vendors are easy to spot and are usually always willing to bargain. They sit
silently with a makeshift table in front of them or even cardboard stands to display their wares. Usually female,
many have become skeptical of non-Chinese customers that may happen to stop by. It was an undercover,
plainclothes, white police officer from the 5th Precinct that arrested Tsay. As a result, she and many others are now
hesitant to speak to certain individuals, be it a tourist or a non-Asian potential customer.

As it is,t hema jor
ityofCh i
n atown’ sph onev en dor sa res ellingt heircardsat25t os ome time se ven40
percent off face value. A phone card values at 20 dollars sells easily at 14 or sometimes even 12 dollars. And with
cards that offer rates to mainland China as low as 2 cents a minute, business has proven to be very lucrative for
ma nyoft hesewome nwhos itsi
lent
lyonCh inatown’ ss t
re ets
.An dwith a select number of cards available in
different Chinese dialects and some that are even capable of being programmed into mobile phones for faster and
easier calling, phone card vendors have found a niche in Chinatown-a very profitable and now somewhat
controversial niche.

Discount and wholesale phone cards aside, there is something very unique about Ch ina t
own ’sphonecard
vendors. While they are all Chinese with a handful of Taiwanese and even Vietnamese, the majority of vendors are
female. With very little or poor English language skills, they quietly set up shop on street corners and move with the
crowds when necessary. But the entrepreneurial spirit of phone card vendors has been somewhat dimmed. Police
raids and arrests of the female phone card vendors have instilled a sense of fear and weariness in these women.
Women, who claim that are legally documented to live and work in the United States a nda re“ justtr
yingtol ive .

Female vendors have been arrested, jailed and are harassed by police officers on patrol, primarily beat officers from
the 5th precinct, now known among many as a local precinct that just does not seem able to handle the growth and
expansion of the Chinatown community.

The once self-contained Chinatown is similar to most other immigrant locales in New York City. With the
communi t
y ’sg rowt h,h avecomeh igh ercomme rci
alrents,mor epe de st
ria ntra ff
ic and more storeowners trying to
attract new business. Phone card vendors have set up shop in this community and business is booming. High
pedestrian traffic, word of mouth and a need for community members to keep in touch with those left behind in their
native countries has propelled phone card vendors to one of the most profitable types of vendors in Chinatown. With
de ma ndon lyi n creasing,thesev en dorsa r
en ow pa rtofChi n at
own’ si ma ge.Ani ma gei tisca rryingalong with its
expansion into neighboring Little Italy.

Tr adit
ion ally,t heNYPD’ s5th Precinct, located at 19 Elizabeth Street, has been responsible for and has
patrolled the Little Italy and Chinatown areas of lower Manhattan. The so-c alle d“ face”ofl owe rMa nh attanh a s
changed over a generation and while the neighborhood streets clearly reflect this, it is not easily seen within the 5th
Precinct. And as diverse as New York City may be, the majority of the NYPD officers are still white. As of January
2005, only around 20 percent of the 5th Precinct ’s160u niforme dpol i
c eoffice rsa reofAs iande scent
.An dou tof
this 20 percent, a combination of Chinese, Vietnamese and Taiwanese, only about half speak any Asian languages
and are able to converse with Chinatown residents in a language other than English. White American males account

3
for the larger number of officers on patrol citywide, let alone Chinatown. While recruitment efforts and community
outreach programs have been able to draw a small number of officers of Asian descent to Chinatown, some have
argued that effortsa
rej ustf orth esak eof“ qu otafu lfi
ll
me nt”an dther ealneedsoft h ecommun it
ya rebe i
ngi gn ored.
And this alone has not been able to quell the tensions that have arisen in and around Chinatown as the businesses
and residents move deeper into Little Italy, a traditionally white neighborhood that has generally had good ties with
the 5th Precinct. While a good number of business in Little Italy have re-located or shut down, Chinatown is
expanding, and rather quickly.

New York City zoning law has defined Chinatown as the areas bordering Kenmore and Delancey Streets to
the north, Allen Street on the east, and Broadway on the west. This Chinatown has also been billed as the largest
“Ch i
n at
owni nt heWe s t
ernh emi sphere.”Wi t
har ecorde dpopulation estimated between 80,000 to upwards of
150,000 living and doing business in the area, it is needless to say this once concentrated community on
Ma nh at
tan’sLowe rEa stSi dei ss urging-outwards and into a traditionally white, established area known as Little
Italy. There are however, a handful of phone card vendors on the outskirts of Chinatown today, close to one what
n eighborh oodr esi
de ntc alls“ thequi eterpartoft own .
”While not as visible as they are along Chrystie, Grand and
Bowery Streets, they are there and are no less cautious as those that are in the thick of it in Chinatown, along East
Broadway, for example. Little Italy residents have gotten used to Chinatown and the traffic that has engulfed the
lower Manhattan area. But with familiarity has come complaints of different kinds. Congestion, pollution and petty
crimes are just a few of the complaints both the 5th Precinct and local politicians now deal with on a daily basis-
primarily from Little Italy residents and business owners, with the main complaint being about those peddling their
goods (phone cards, handbags and other trinkets) on the streets.

Despite the obvious economic influence street vendors have in Chinatown, New York City police officers
have been trying to remove these vendors for some time now. The Manhattan South Task Force, a division of the
NYPD has taken on vendors with the formation of a Street Peddlers Unit in 1996.While vendors throughout the city
were targeted, it is only with the 5th precinct that the Street Peddlers Unit has established a working relationship. In
efforts to quell complaints and clear sidewalks, detectives with the Unit are often on patrol with beat officers from
the 5th.On es tationc lerklaugh edwh enqu estion edwhy .“On ef amiliarfacea ndon en ot
,”sh esai
d.“ Igu e ssitma k es
iteas ierforthe m. ”

Only within the past one and a half to two years has the intensity of raids and arrests picked up, primarily
with phone card vendors. Sean Basinski, director of the New York City based Street Vendor Project, cites a bit of
ignoran cea nde ven bor edom on be hal
foft hea rrest
in g officersi n Ch inatown’ s5th pr ecinct
.“ It’sa l
mos t
unbe l
ie vableth atthepol ic ewou l
dj ustgoa fte rwome nth atarej usts el
lingont hes tre
ets,”Ba sinskisaid.“ Th ereis
other stuff goingon ,bu ti t
’swome nt ha
ts pe akl it
tl
eEng lis
ht h ata retry i
n gt os urvive,t heya retheon e sthatg et
harassed.”Ba s i
nskia dmi tst her
ea rema ny“ h ard-workinga n dh on est”pol i
c eof ficer
swi thint he5th precinct, but
notes also that many of the precincts of
fic
e rsa ren own ot ori
ou sa mongCh inatown’ sbus ines sown er
sa ndv endor s
.
He cites the precincts anti-vendortactic
sa s“ h arassment,a busivea n dh umi li
a ti
n g.”fort hosel ivinga ndwor kingi n
the Chinatown area.

Founded as a program of the Urban Justice Center, the Street Vendor Project aims to improve the working
con ditionsofNe w Yor kCi ty’sn early10, 000v endor s
,includingt h osel ikeWe ndyTs ay.Edu ca t
ingv e
n dorson
issues ranging from the legal to the trivial, the Street Vendor Project has become known as a determined and vocal
advocate for its members. Members that include Chinatown phone vendors to Bangladeshi hot dog cart operators.
In a direct response to the harassment and continuing arrests of phone card vendors in Chinatown, the Street Vendor
Project initiated a campaign against the 5th precinct in 2003. While they have reached out to detectives and officers
within the precinct and those involved with the sweeps and raids in Chinatown, they have met resistance on behalf
of the police. It has even been reported that some officers walked out of a meeting initiated by Basinski in 2003
regarding Chinatown vendors. The Street Vendor Project has also taken steps to ensure those that are harassed and
arrested are fully aware of their rights and advocates f i
ghti
ngba cka g ainsttheinj
u s
ticesoma nyofNe wYor kCi ty’s
vendors are dealing with today. While Basinski also cites education on behalf of the vendors as crucial, knowing
how t oe x ercis
et hei
rr i
gh t
si sj usta simpor t
a nt.“ Wet ryou rbe sttog ett
hemi nvolve d,”Ba s i
ns kisaid.“ I
t’s
impor ta ntth epu bli
ckn owst hatt hesea r
eh ardwor kin gi
ndividuals,a ndv endingistheirli
v elihood.”

Dr. Pe
te rKwon g,a nUr banAf fai
rspr ofessora ttheCi tyUn iversit
yofNe w Yor k’sHu nt
erColleg eand
Graduate School, has written and spoken extensively about the Chinese and their experiences in America. From

4
exploitation to entrepreneurship, Kwong has researched issues of the Chinese on a professional level. His
groundbr eaki
ngbook ,en tit
led‘ Ch inatown,NY:La bora ndPolitics 1930-1950 ”wasre
centl
yu pdat
edtoref
lec
tthe
communi ty’
sc hang e,bot hpol iticall
ya n de con omi call
y.Kwon gde mon st
ratedh owtheexcl
usionanddis
cri
minati
on
against Chinese in America led them to create on move down their own entrepreneurial path in many urban areas.
Ex cl
ude df r
om l aborun ionsa ndf orce di ntowh athec alls“ urbangh ett
os,”t h
eCh i
n e
see vent
ual
lyros
et othe
merchant class status, particularly with the help of advocacy and liberal groups.

“Th i
swa st obee x pected,
”Kwon ge xpla
insofther apidg rowt hofCh i
natown .“ On cei ndi
v idualsa r
e
settled in, and in particular in a community as accommodating as Chinatown is today, it is only a matter of time
bef orete nsionspic ku p,e spec i
allyasitmov esou t
wa r
d.”

He attributes having to make a living and the ease, familiarity and comfort of vending as major reasons
why these women now cautiously take to the streets to peddle phone cards.“ Th isiswha tma nyoft hem di dba ck
home ,”Kwongs a id.“ Sell
ingi nma rketsa ndbe i
ngout si
dei sa l
mos tsecon dn aturef orma nyoft he m.”Th eykn ow
howt odot h ejob,n otraini
ngr equ i
red.”An dpu shingph onec a rdsonama k esh i
fttableisf are asi
e randc onven i
ent
that pushing a cart saddled with handbags, clothing and other various trinkets. New York City police officers are not
huma nitariansa nda ret ypi
callyu nderorde rstoc arryoutt he irjob.Kwonga ttributesthistoa n“ agg ressi
v ea nde ven
ign orant”s tanceoft h ea r
rest
ingof ficer
s.“ Fort heCh ine s
e ,iti sv er
y,v eryi mpor t
a nttoc on t
inuous lybei ntou ch
withf a mily.Ma nyoft hemh a veleftwh olef amiliesbe hind,bei tinma inlandCh i
n aorTa iwa n,”s aidKwon g.“Th ey
must always be in touch, not just for personal reasons, but also to remind relatives of where they are and how, if one
wants to, to come to America .It’svitaltoth em.An dwi t
hs u chl itt
lediversitywi th i
nt hepol icede partme nt,andt he
5th in particular, it is almost expected that there will be tensions. They simply do not understand what they are
de alingwi th.”

Today, the issue of phone card vendors on the sidewalks of Chinatown is far from resolved. With tougher
licensing regulations and dated city laws that prohibit particular items from being sold on New York City streets
with or without a vending license, Basinski and his staff are working to ease restrictions. After carefully reviewing
the current laws, the Street Vendor Project has reached out to New York City councilman Alan Gerson and his staff,
whi chi nclu desTa mmyTo,a nAs ianAme rica nwhoi snow Ge rs
on’ sDi re c
torofCon stituentAf fair
s. To has
be comet h epu blicf aceofGe r
son’sof fi
ce .Sh ede al
spr ima rilywi thth epu blicandf ieldsc ompl aint
sf rom re side
nts
on both sides of the issue. Both Gerson and To have recognized how outdated and somewhat unrealistic the vending
law in the city are today. According to legal filings, neither the vending or stoop line laws in New York City were
have been looked at by legislation or even amended was in 1937, with some more stringent restrictions added in
1979. And knowing that street vending is a very common and easy strategy for both new and even some established
immigrants in the city, administrators have recently realized they must face and deal with the issue. Vendors serve
communities by offering low cost merchandise to its individuals. While some may seek out the bargains, there are
also those who never stray far from their locale and rely on particular vendors, be it for fruits and vegetables from a
re gularst
re etstan d,compa ctdiscsandDVD’ sorph on ec ards .

Dealing with the Chinatown community and attending meetings in which both vendors and some 5th
precinct officers have been present, To is fully aware of both sides of the issue. She understands there are longtime
Little Italy residents that essentially want to walk down their neighborhood streets without having to dodge a
pushcart or makeshift table on their way to their destination. And she understands the Chinese community has
rapidly grown and is bleeding into Little Italy. She also knows and understands how the Chinese community tends to
stickt og eth er,“a l
mos tinl a
rgec l
umps ,”a sKwon gs impl ypu tsit.To spoke frankly when questioned about the high
a rresta ndme rcha ndises e iz
u rer at
e swithinCh i
n a
town .“Iun derstan dthisc ommuni t
y ,
”To s a i
d.“ Ik nowt hatthisi s
only what a good number of them can do. And I know it is what they have to do just to be able to eat and get by. But
the police are out there and they have to do their job, too. They are reacting to something; our office is stepping in to
make clear what should and should not bedon e,andwha twi l
lc ont i
nu eoni fther
ea renoc h ang es.”Tog oe sont o
e xplaint h atamu tua lun de rstandingbe twe e
na lli
nvol vedi sc r
u ci
a l,cit
in g“ mor eme eti
ng sifn e edbe ,”t obr i
ngt h e
illegalities to the direct attention of Chinatown vendors.

Finding a balance for those living in the area and those working in the area has not been easy; especially
with residents repeatedly bringing the issue to Gerson and his staff. Over the past year, To claims there has been a
little improvement in lower Manhattan with regards to vendors spilling over and onto the streets. She cites less
congestion and cleaner, easier to navigate sidewalks, Broadway and Canal Streets in particular. But these changes

5
took time. Vendors were forced to scale back while complaints mounted. One longtime Little Italy resident Lillian
Tozzi, who was born and raised in the same building she still resides in today, explains the neighborhood as having
gonef r
om“ qu
ainta ndclose-kn i
tt os ov erycomme rcialnow. ”

After a meeting held at Cou n
c i
lma nGe r
son’ sof ficeonJ a nua ry28,200 5,ame e t
ingi nwhi chTo,Ba sins ki
,
local Chinatown reporters and a number of phone card vendors were all present, Gerson has admitted that the law is
somewhat restrictive and even dated. Flowers and jellybeans, for example, can be sold on sidewalks, but nowhere on
record are phone cards included in the laundry list of items that are legally permitted to be sold on New York City
streets. The arresting officers of the 5th Precinct are fully aware of this, but vendors, Chinatown vendors in
particular, have not been for some time. Also, pedestrian traffic and safety issues have arisen. There have been
reports of vendors that obstruct sidewalk traffic, with their carts or tables spilling too far into the sidewalks. This too
is not clearly documented in city records, but many Chinatown street vendors have taken great pains to ensure they
are within the legal parameters of the vending laws. Gerson has assured Basinski and local vendors that his office
would look into ways that will ease the tensions that have arise between vendors and residents of lower Manhattan.
Little Italy and Chinatown areas, specifically. The idea of having the law modified was also raised at the meeting,
but Basinski is not holding his breath. A graduate of Georgetown University’ sLaw School and one who is
knowledgeable in public affairs and urban issues, Basinski knows it will take time, a lot of time before the licensing
and vending issues reach City Hall with recommendations for modification.

Back at the 5th Precinct, officers continue on with enforcing the law, clearing out street vendors in
particular. 42 year-old Detective David Yat oversees the uniformed police officers that carry out raids and arrests of
ven dors.“ I
t’sg ottenmu chmor ec ompl i
cated,”Ya te xplainedoft heda ilypol ic ea ctiviti
esi nv olvingv endor si n
Ch inatown.“ Su re,itlooksa wf ulwhe nal i
ttleoldl adyi sa rrest
edont h es t
ree t,butweh avet odowh a tneedst obe
don e.”

Detective Yat speaks of complaints that have been phonedi ntoNe w Yor kCi ty’ s311s erv iceline.
Established under current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 311 is a 24-hour operated city hotline that is
be i
ngt outeda st he“go-to”f orc ityr e siden t
s.Cr eate da ndi mpl e me nt
e dtoc u r
bt hen umbe rofn on-emergency calls
thatwe refloodi ngt hec i
ty’s911s y stem,311fields complaints, and concerns and even assists with tourism
information. But exasperated lower Manhattan residents are also calling 311 when they find no one else to voice
theircon cernsto.“ Everythinge n dsu ph ereforu st ode alwi th,”Ya tsaid.Ona nyg ivenda y,Ya tex plainst hatthere
are complaints from residents, Little Italy residents in particular, and the average pedestrian citing frustrations with
how crowded the streets in Chinatown are. Yat has served with the 5th precinct for 18 years. He acknowledges
Chinatown has changed-and that many within the precinct that have served the area for some time probably never
expected the neighborhood to be what it is today.

“Weg etcompl ai
nts
,”Ya ts ai
d.“Compl a
int
st hatt heph on ecardsa rec h eap,thattheydon ’twor ka ndt hat
they are a total rip-off sometimes. But we are mainly targeting those with illegal goods and those that are not
properly licensed.”

In an effort to ease some of the tensions that have arisen between police in lower Manhattan and residents
of both Little Italy and Chinatown, the 5th Pr
ec i
nct,inc oope r
ationwi ththeMa nh attanDi stri
ctAtt
or ney’sOf ficeh as
init
iatedt r
a in i
n gs essi
onst hrought hec it
y ’sCr i
mePr e ventiona ndSma llBusinesss ervicesunit
s.“Pe oplen eedt obe
prope rl
yl ice nse dwh entheya reou tthe re,”Ya tsaid.“ Ify oua rese l
lingphon ec ards,y ourlic
enses hou l
dn otbe for
flowers or vegetables. This is what these women are using to peddle a n diti
sn otle gal.”

What has surprised Yat is how little interest has been shown on behalf of the vendors to cooperate and be
educated about the law. On December 24, 2004, when the last training session was held for vendors to learn about
proper licensing and vending laws, Yat c it
e sthet urnouta s“ path etic.
”“ Pra ct
icallyn oon es howe du p,
”Ya ts ai
d.
“Thepol icewe reth er
e ,theDi s
trictAt torn ey’swe rethere,bu tIc ou l
dc ou ntthenumbe rofv endorsonmyon eh and.
Ik nowt i
mei smon eyf orth em,buti t’si mpor tanttheyk now wh ati srighta ndwh atisnot .”Att hes ametime ,Ya t
goes on to explain that posting three to five thousand dollars bail in cash has not been a problem for many of those
vendor swhoh avebe ena rrested.“ Sot h eya reobv iouslyma k i
ngde centmon eya nddon’ tc arehow they go about
thi
ngs ,
”Ya tc onti
nu ed.Bu tt hi
ss tateme n tisquick l
yc oun t
e redbywha tDr .Kwongr eferstoa sa“ solidsupportba se
ofve ndor s.

6
“Mos tkn owwh ati sou tthe
re,
”Kwon gs
aid.“Notma nyv e ndorsa reont h estreetswithn oonet ocall.Th ey
are either working for a wholesaler or have a number of contacts readily available. Very few are operating as
individuals, so posting bail is and mayof
tenbeacoll
aborat
iveefforts.”

Detective Yat and Sergeant Eng, director of the Street Peddlers Unit in Chinatown, admit there have been
inst
ance swhe res omev endorsh avebe enwr ongfullya rrestedont hepr esume dc h arg
e s
.Wh ilethet wowon’ tgointo
mu chde t
ail,theybot ha dmi ttherei s“ a
lwa ysar eas on”f orpi cki
ngu pth ev en dorsandt i
c ket
ing.“ Al way s,
”Yat
fi
rmlys tat
e s.“Wee veng etc omplaintsth atthev endor sa r
ea t
tracti
ngpe t
tyc r i
me ss uchaspi ck-pocketing back to
thearea,”h ec on tinue
d.“ Weh a
v etol ookint oe veryth i
ngt ha tlandsonou rde sks,e s
pec i
all
yi fitisc omingf r
omt he
311 hotline. That isbasi
callytheMa yor’snumbe ra sf araswea recon cerned.”

“Wea ren otth epr oble
m”Douglas Ho, a former vendor and now owner of four calling card and mobile
ph ones hopsi son eve ndort ur
neds t
ore own erwh oh asf eltt
h ebr un tofthelaw.“ Ev eryonei nthe 5th k
nowsme ,
”Ho
said as he stood behind the small glass case displaying the latest phones and cards. Not only has Ho been arrested
and had public confrontations with officers from the 5th pre
c inct,bu thiswi f
eSt ell
ah asaswe ll
.“ Theyh a
v eg otten
to knowme ,”Hos ai
d.“ Bu tforthewr ongr e asons.Wh enmys hopsg etrobbed,Ic an ’
tge tanyh elp.Bu thereIh ave
abi gs ummonsa ndn oide areall
ywhy .

Malaysian-born Ho has experienced the profits of doing business in lower Manhattan and the over-bearing
enforcement of the police from the 5th Precinct. His last arrest and summons cost him a $3,000.00 and landed his
photo on the front page of a Chinatown daily newspaper-in handcuffs. Ho, who owns four phone card and mobile
phone shops incorporated as Ring Ding Wireless in Chinatown, has dealt with the police enough times and has been
turnedof ffrom e v enwa nti
n gtoa skforh el
pwh enh en e edsi t.“ Wea renott hepr obl em,”Hoe xplainsa sh eope ns
for business one recent morning.“Inste adofwor ki
nga g ainstu s, they should join us. There are bigger things going
on down here, I do not know why they come after all us who are just working and trying to live. If we all go by the
book ,n ot
h i
ngwoul dg or i
ght,”saysHo.

But it is also attitudes such as the one of Ho that Detective Yat and others within the 5th Precinct are trying
tochange .“Al lthe complaints aside, the laws are be ingbr oken.Pl ai
na nds impl e
,”Ya tsaid.“ Al lthec ompl aintsa nd
new incontinences aside, the law is being broken and this is why we are out there-not to just arrest for the hell of it.
And a $3,000.00 fine clearly means he is a repeat offender. We would not issue a summons like that unless we know
anda recertai
nt hepe rsonh asbe enth r
oug ht hes yste
m.Atl ea
s tmor etha ntwic e.

Ho is just one of a number of business owners and vendors in Chinatown that has either modified a
business or scaled back on how and where they do business. Wendy Tsay, for example spent $1,000.00 to build a
small alcove outside of the Asian City store on Grand Street. After her first arrest, she was given permission from
thes tore’sowne rtoc onstructth ef
our-foot wide space, further back from the street curb, being sure to avoid the
sidewalk altogether. Tsay cannot afford to work on her own and rents the small space from Jeff Li, owner and
manager of Asian City. After being released form jail the second time, Tsay asked to work just from the inside. Less
thanon ewe eka n ds hewa sba ckout
sidea ndi nfrom oft hes tore.“Th ereiswa ymor etraff
icoutt here,espe cially on
Gr andSt reet,”Lis ai
d.“ Sh ewi llgobr okei fshes taysi ndoor swi t
ht h os
ec ards.”Lie xplainsthec ompe ti
tionh as
grown tight and location has become the major issue for nearly all of the phone card vendors. 40-year old Tsay and
her husband both immigrated to New York three years ago. They reside in Chinatown with their 11-year-old
daughter. Back home in China, they did similar work as vendors, but both admit the business in Manhattan has been
good for both of them. They know and understand the need for community members to call home; unfortunately the
officers of the 5th precinct do not.

It was in January of 2002 that the 5th police precinct publicly announced new tactics in dealing with street
vendors in Chinatown. On Canal Street, specifically,t icketinga nd/or“ r
aids”woul dtakepl acedu ringtheh oursof1
p.m. to 12 midnight on Saturday and Sunday. Knowing weekends are the busiest times for vendors and even the
most lucrative, business-wise, the police went ahead with numerous arrests and the raids began. According to some,
both legal and illegal vendors were targeted, but it was usually the illegal ones that were jailed and had merchandise
removed from the streets.

One major concern of the police has fallen under the quality of life initiative. They cite complaints from
neighborhood residents and business owners. Sidewalks in Chinatown are usually crowded with pedestrians-

7
weekends in particular. Since the Chinese are the majority of those who inhabit Chinatown, they have changed in
regards to complying with various city laws and have taken extra caution to keep officers from the 5th precinct away.
Douglas Ho, a former vendor and now owner of four calling card and mobile phone shops is one vendor turned
storeowner who has felt the brunt of the law.“ Ev e
ryon eint he5th knowsme ,
”Hos aida sh est
oodbe hindt hes mall
glass case displaying the latest phones and cards. Not only has Ho been arrested and had public confrontations with
officers from the 5th pr
ec i
n ct,bu thiswi feStellah asa swe ll.“Th eyhaveg ott
e ntok nowme ,”Hos a id.“Bu tf orthe
wr ongr e asons.Wh e nmys h opsg etrobbe d,Ic an ’
tge tanyh elp.Buth ereIh aveabi gs ummon sa ndn oi dear ea
lly
why .

As of February 19, 2005 Councilman Alan Gerson and his staff had yet to hear back from City Hall
regarding proposed changes in vending laws. Gerson, along with To as community liaison are now pushing to have
the law refined. While the concerns of vendors and those raised by Basinski are a factor, Gerson believes the law
should be changed-with or without all the vendors spilling onto the sidewalks. He, like Basinski is also working to
simplify the vending laws and what the city regards as stoop-line licenses. These licenses carefully specify the exact
number of feet and inches of sidewalk space that can be occupied while vending and by one vendor in particular.
Th ec on t
en tofwh aton ec ans ellisa lsoonGe rson ’sa ge ndaoft hingstobec hanged. His office has acknowledged
that vending if not a leisurely task-it is a way of life, a livelihood for many in the lower Manhattan area and it must
be protected just as the rights of an office worker or city employee would be protected. While the Street Vendor
Project has brought this issue to the attention of Gerson and his staff, the changes will clearly take time. While
vending is not unique to Chinatown, phone cards and higher than average complaints are. High tension between the
officers of the 5th Precinct and the Chinatown community still exist and until there is a mutual understanding on
behalf of the vendors and those policing the area, problems will remain. The cultural and economic issues at play
will keep the issue alive, but for how long remains to be seen.

On another bitter cold weekend in March, Wendy Tsay is out on Grand Street peddling phone cards.
Dressed in layers, she has a short line of customers in front of her and her husband stands by her side. Speaking in
Cantonese, she explains that she has asked him to work with her on some weekends as she feels less intimidated
with him around. Yes, there are both uniformed and plainclothes officers around and on patrol. But Tsay and her
husband continue on. Vending is more than a daily tasks for the two of them. As Tsay puts it, it will give her
daughter what she wants for her birthday and help them support relatives back home. Be it 10 degrees or a hot
summer day, both husband and wife will continue to vend, and hold onto the their hopes of one day experiencing the
America they learned of back home.

8
Dawn S. Kissi
Class of 2005
Mas tersPr ojec
t:ANe wCo mmodi
tyi
nNe
wYor
kCi
ty’
sChi
nat
own
Advisor: Lynda Richardson

Sources:

Mr. Sean Basinski, Director, Street Vendor Project
The Urban Justice Center
(646) 602-5679-direct
(212) 533-4035- fax
666 Broadway, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10012

Dr. Peter Kwong
Professor of Asian Studies Program, Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
(CUNY)
(212) 772-5598-office

Amy Lung, Chinatown Justice Project
Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence
191 East 3rd Street
New York, NY 10009
(212)-473-6485-main office number

New York City Councilman Alan Gerson & Tammy To, Director of Constituent Affairs for Chinatown, Battery
Park City, SoHo and Tribeca
District Office:
49-51 Chambers Street Suite 429
New York, NY 10007
(212) 788-7727-main office

NYPD Detective David Yat
5th Precinct (Chinatown)
Community Affairs
19 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 334-0711

NYPD Sgt. Eng
5th Precinct (Chinatown)
Director, Street Peddlers Unit
19 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10017
(212) 334-0711

Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund
99 Hudson Street
12th Floor
New York, NY 10013
(212) 966-5932 (main)

In confidentiality: Chinatown vendors, one New York City police officer (5th Precinct) and an immigration lawyer.
*Some names may have been changed to ensure the privacy and protection of vendors.

9
Dawn S. Kissi
Class of 2005
ANe wCommodi tyinNe wYorkCi
ty’
sChi
nat
own
Advisor: Lynda Richardson


P.S.

In November of 2004, I lost a friend in the U.S. –led offensivei nFa ll
u ja
,I raq.Su r
e,hisdea thma deh eadl
ines.“Fi
rst
As ianMa r
inek ill
e di nI raq,
”a n d“Ch i
n atownmou rnsl ossofAs ianMa rin e.
” Th rou
g hou tmyt imes pentwi t
hth e
family, I began to really understand how tight-knit and supportive this particular immigrant group is. New York City
is brimming with nationalities, languages and culture. But what struck me the most about the Chinese was the
almos tobl igatorys enset hattookov erwh ent hen ewsofSg t.La m’ sde athr eachedh ome .Bus inessowne rsan d
strangersa likere ache dou ttot hefa mi l
y .Bu sinessesi nlowe rMa n hat
tan’sCh in at
owndi strictinpa r t
icul
ar.Support
came from all directions, in the spiritual and financial. While the family is somewhat known on the business scene
downtown, the response was overwhelming.

After spending a considerable amount of time with the family, I began to notice business trends in Chinatown. But
there is also some negativity that has come with these trends. I noticed harassment of certain individuals, bullying
and threatening of those that appeared vulnerable and unable to quickly fight back. But with all this, a certain
humbleness also hung over the situation.

After witnessing an arrest of one street vendor on a Sunday afternoon in Chinatown, my interest grew. Why was this
on ewoma nbe inga rrested?Cl earlyn otina nyon e’swa y ,cle ar
lyn otc ausinga nydir ectha rmt opa ssersby ,s hewa s
arrested and later fined. Granted, she was back on the street and in business in a matter of days, but the question still
remained.


My MastersPr
oje
ctwa
sbor
n.

Street vending is weaved itself into New York City. It is the livelihood of tens of thousands of immigrants and
nationals living in the area. With restrictive and even what many claim discriminatory laws, these vendors take to
the streets in order to feed families, pay college tuition and mortgages in some cases. Throughout my research and
extensive interviewing, I learned of the struggles, fears and daily circumstances vendors live with. Many of which
were either news to me or astonishing.

MyMa ster
’sPr ojectfocusedonph onec ardsa ndt h eCh inatownc ommun ity.Asan e wc ommodi tyinlower
Manhattan, the issue of phone card vending is now making its way to City Hall. Licensing laws and vending
regulations are now at the forefront of the battle for equality and justice for those that have honed their
entrepreneurialspir
it
sa ndde pendont he“st
reets”tol ive.Inac itywi thsoma nyi n di
viduals“ su rvivin g
”r a
the
rtha
n
“li
vin g”itwa sa l
mos tama zi
ngtos eeh owr el
e n
tlessa ndc our
ageouss o many street vendors really are.

10