Dear Chairman Mendelson,

On behalf of the 14,000 members and supporters of the ACLU of the District of Columbia, I urge you to schedule and hold a markup on Bill 24-49 “Street Vending Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2021” and Bill 24-50 “Sidewalk Vending Zones Amendment Act of 2021” by November 30, 2022. These bills should be considered and voted on this session because street vending is crucial to our economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, and it offers opportunity for those starting from scratch. Now is the time to reform our laws to end the disproportionate punishment of vendors simply working to make ends meet for themselves and their families.

Street vending is not inherently dangerous and does not pose immediate threats to public safety. Therefore, it should not be considered a crime warranting criminal penalties. The Council should act this session to create a system that supports street vendors and recognizes their value to our recovering District.

As ACLU-D.C. Policy Associate Ahoefa Ananouko asserted in her testimony submitted to the Committee of the Whole, the criminalization of unlicensed street vending in the District has resulted in police harassment, arrests, and violence against D.C. residents who are simply trying to provide for their families. Policing of street vending disproportionately targets and harms Black and brown district residents—who are already overpoliced. According to data from the D.C. Sentencing Commission, there were 463 arrests “illegal” vending, made up of 498 unique vending charges, between January of 2018 and September of this year. 78 percent of those charges were for vending without a license. Of the 463 vending-related arrests, the majority (81%) were of Black individuals. Criminalization threatens the safety of Black and brown communities and makes undocumented D.C. residents susceptible to federal immigration enforcement, violating D.C.’s obligation as a self-proclaimed “sanctuary jurisdiction.”

As the District continues our economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, efforts to advance opportunities for workers and small businesses must include street vendors, who are an important part of the District’s economy and contribute to D.C.’s multiculturalism. Street vendors simply cannot wait until the criminal code revisions take effect in 2025.

Waiting would mean two full years of continued harassment, drained finances, and lost economic opportunity for families who have already borne the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis.

In tandem with decriminalization, the Sidewalk Vending Zones Amendment Act would make licenses more widely accessible while establishing zones for vendors to legally operate. Currently, the process for obtaining a vending license in the District is complex and largely inaccessible to vendors who wish to follow the law. The high cost of licensing and the complicated maze of rules create a barrier to entry for vendors, effectively barring many Black and brown from generating income.

Ultimately, our community is strongest and most vibrant when everyone, especially historically harmed groups, has access to economic opportunity and are free from harassment and intimidation from law enforcement.

Thank you for your consideration.

Monica Hopkins
Executive Director
ACLU of the District of Columbia