Latino Voices

Volunteers Work to Protect Little Village Street Vendors Amid Uptick in Robberies

Volunteers Work to Protect Little Village Street Vendors Amid Uptick in Robberies

Street Vendors in Little Village are pleading for help after an increase in robberies, which they say began in November of last year. The vendors have rallied in front of the Chicago Police Department headquarters, asking for more police presence in the morning, when many vendors are out as early as 4 a.m.

As they wait to hear from the city, volunteers are coming together to watch over the vendors.

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Tamale vendor Margarita Meneses said she was robbed last week at gunpoint by a group of men.

“I have 13 years selling here,” Meneses said, “and never have I gone through something like this.”

“I was in complete shock,” she continued. “I didn’t know what to do but surrender what I had.”

Angel Valdes is a member of the Brown Berets, a national Chicano organization aimed at protecting neighborhoods like Little Village. When Valdes learned the Little Village Community Council was looking for volunteers to watch over the vendors, he signed up.

“For me, it was very important because I know they are very valuable,” Valdes said. “They’re people who come from Mexico and Latin America, and nobody supports them.” 

Of the vendors, he added: “It’s amazing how brave they are. Something can happen yesterday and you see them here the next day, but that’s because they need to provide just like all of us.”  

Brown Beret members takes turns with other volunteers to drive around and check in on the vendors throughout the morning.  

“We just created a WhatsApp group, and all of them are in it,” Valdes said. “They say, ‘Guys, be careful.’”  

Street vendor Maria Velasquez said she was robbed multiple times last year.

“[The volunteers] walk around and spend time with us in the hours we are alone,” Velasquez said. “They communicate with us, and I feel calmer knowing they are here.”  

But vendors like Velasquez are looking for a plan of action from the city. 

“We need answers on how we can move forward,” Velasquez said. “We are also asking the mayor to give the police department resources. If they don’t get what they need, then there’s so much they can do.” 

In this week’s Chicago mayoral candidate debate on ABC 7 Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a possible solution to the robberies would be to have vendors go cashless. But several said that’s not a sustainable solution for everyone. It also doesn’t stop customers from being robbed.

Valdes, a resident of Little Village, said hiring security is an option.

“My opinion is to put somebody, a group of workers, full time here and pay them — not by the vendors but the resources the city has,” Valdes said.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) said the city has the funds to establish a viable solution to protect the street vendors.  

“The city of Chicago just approved one of the largest budgets in the City of Chicago: $16.4 billion,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “We know also in the latest report just as little as 10% of the money is being allocated or distributed. We need these funds to be out there to serve the community.” 

In the meantime, Valdes said community volunteers will be out as much as they can to support the vendors.  

“We are trying to have our voices heard so the mayor and whoever needs to do something about it, do it … and again use the resources they need to be used for these types of things,” Valdes said.

The vendors and the Little Village Community Council will meet for a second time with the Chicago Police Department’s 10th District at the end of the month. They hope CPD has a clear strategy.

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