A STREET VENDOR is back selling strawberries outside of a San Jose Home Depot two and a half weeks after being harassed by private security.

Jahir Hernández Reyes is one of multiple street vendors who have experienced harassment or violence this year in San Jose as city officials continue to call for policy reforms to protect these individuals, while grappling with how to implement them.

“I’ve experienced racism from customers (here) before,” Reyes told San José Spotlight, saying he has no choice but to continue selling strawberries since he can’t find other work. “I’m going to sell strawberries here as long as they let me.”

San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz said in a July 28 statement he’s “appalled” by the July 20 incident and is pushing the city to take more concrete steps toward safety policies and to help vendors prosper. He said the city is home to thousands of street vendors, most of whom are Latino.

“(The city needs to) modernize policies that have marginalized this community within our economy,” he said.

Despite pushing for these reforms, Ortiz told San José Spotlight it’s still too early to discuss the developing policy.

Multiple incidents

Ortiz and Councilmembers Omar Torres and Domingo Candelas have been advocating for street vendor protections and policy changes since February, after hotdog vendor Saul Reconco was brutally beaten outside the SAP Center. Another vendor Carlos Sanchez was attacked with a baseball bat outside an auto business on Old Bayshore Highway.

Torres did not respond to requests for comment. Candelas said he hasn’t taken action, but the councilmembers have been actively working to provide resources to street vendors as attacks have ramped up.

The latest outreach to street vendors was a July 31 resource fair that included three workshops to empower vendors to stay safe and grow their business. Topics included resources on human trafficking, marketing and how to transition away from vending to a brick-and-mortar.

San Jose had a street vendor resource fair on July 31 that included three workshops on staying safe and growing their business. (Courtesy city of San Jose)

Reyes was confronted by two private security guards July 20 resulting in a viral video of the incident. After threatening to arrest the Reyes and others, private security kicked over his strawberries, called the police and said the street vendor was “ganged up,” refusing to leave and calling their friends for help. A representative from Home Depot told San José Spotlight the two private security guards involved in the incident “no longer work with us.”

“The property owner did have the right to request the street vendor to leave,” Ortiz said. “But they didn’t have the right to have their security officers harm the street vendors product, the strawberries which he kicked over, or threaten the street vendor in the manner he did.”

San Jose ‘absolutely needs to do more’

Huy Tran, interim executive director of SIREN, a regional nonprofit empowering undocumented immigrants and refugees, said he doesn’t think the city is doing enough to uplift and protect its street vendors. The organization attended the resource fair, and while Tran said he appreciates the councilmembers’ efforts, he wants to see more progress made by city leadership.

“This latest incident is not random people off the street, it was security guards,” Tran told San José Spotlight. “The city absolutely needs to do more, to tell vendors that they’re going to be protected and their right to sell, make money and provide for themselves and their families is going to be protected as well.”

“The worst part about when a vendor gets attacked aside from the (violence) is they can be taken out of commission, they can’t go to work.”

Huy Tran, SIREN interim executive director

Ortiz said the hope is to help street vendors build a network of support amongst each other and to help them connect with those who do not have a permit. Ortiz wants to make sure they are compliant with city and county regulations. The ultimate goal is to get to a place where an organized group of vendors can bargain for themselves.

“They themselves can negotiate with property owners to set up mutually benefiting agreements,” Ortiz said. “They can (sell) on property, and of course pay rent so the property owners are whole, and are not susceptible to any attacks from any sort of security.”

Tran said another way for city leaders to show their support would be to set up a fund to help cover the lost income of any vendors who are attacked.

“The worst part about when a vendor gets attacked aside from the (violence) is they can be taken out of commission, they can’t go to work,” Tran said. “Programs like unemployment are just not available to undocumented residents.”

Contact Ben Irwin at ben@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @B1rwin on Twitter.