NYPD Crackdown on Migrants’ Mopeds Points to Escalating Tensions in NYC Neighborhoods
NEW YORK (New York Daily News/TNS) — As migrants continue to flood into New York, the political rhetoric turns increasingly heated and opportunities for the new arrivals remain scarce, a new point of contention is emerging between the new arrivals and established New Yorkers:
In response to escalating community complaints, the New York City Police Department has cracked down on illegal mopeds. They’ve hit at least four different migrant shelters across the city. Two of the raids have spiraled into chaotic sidewalk brawls, with punches flying and arrests made. Thursday, six men were arrested during a scuffle with police at a Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center on Jefferson Street in Bushwick.
Migrants told the Daily News the city is robbing them of one of the few avenues they have to make a living. Without work authorization, their bikes and mopeds bring them income as food delivery workers and the migrants in dire need of money as they try to feed themselves and their families.
“They took my way of working,” Yeral Polaco, 26, from Venezuela, told The News in Spanish outside the Brooklyn shelter. “I have to get a new motorcycle. It’s very difficult. I don’t know what I’m going to do now… This is how we work and they took away our source of employment.”
Polaco’s moped and 15 others were taken by the cops just before 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, just as many were leaving the shelter for work.
Advocates say the crackdown is counterproductive and ironic. It will make it harder for migrants to make enough money to leave the shelters and become self-sufficient, forcing them to stay in the shelter system longer and prolonging the crisis.
They also point out that, as Adams calls on the federal government for emergency work authorization, a city agency is taking away one of the few avenues migrants have for consistent income.
“It’s very hypocritical of the NYPD, while Adams is calling on expedited work permits, to take away people’s source of income,” Sergio Uzurin, a mutual aid organizer, said.
The confiscations are just one more point of rising tension as local Republicans drum up anti-migrant rhetoric and Mayor Eric Adams uses extreme language, saying recently the migrant crisis will “destroy” the city.
According to local elected officials and 311 data, complaints have shot up around the two shelters where fights broke out between cops and migrants.
Citywide moped seizures have skyrocketed this year, according to data from the NYPD. So far in 2023, there have been 8,206 seizures, compared to 3,842 during the same timespan last year, a DCPI spokesperson said.
These issues aren’t exclusive to migrants, and moped use has increased across the city — but because of migrants’ limited paths to legal work, many “rent” out accounts on delivery apps from others who legally can work, making deliveries on apps like UberEats and Grubhub. With no place to charge e-bikes, many migrants are now using the more expensive but faster mopeds.
The Stratford Arms shelter on the Upper West Side was the site of a brawl just last week, when the NYPD confiscated 15 vehicles, police said, in a raid that was spurred by community complaints.
Councilmember Gale Brewer said that her office has received an outsize number of complaints about the shelter.
She says she’s sympathetic to the difficulties migrants face in finding work — “but if you’re riding around on a moped, they’re getting taken because they’re illegal,” Brewer said. The conflict is unfolding amid broader concern across the city about the dangers posed by e-bikes and mopeds to pedestrians.
The four mopeds, motorcycle and scooter the cops took at the West 70th Street shelter were all unregistered, according to the NYPD. Nine bicycles were chained to a pole, and confiscated because that violates a local law. One woman, age 20, was arrested trying to prevent an officer from taking a bike and hitting an officer.
The second skirmish, in Brooklyn, on Thursday erupted after the NYPD responded to community complaints in the normally quiet, industrial area.
311 data shows that complaints have skyrocketed since last year. There was a single 311 complaint from June to September of 2022 for the address. In the same time period this year, there were 43 complaints.
Need to work
As migrants wait for work authorization and local elected officials push for the federal government to accelerate work permits during the crisis, some are calling out the city government for confiscating mopeds instead of helping the migrants.
“This mayor can’t have it both ways: saying we care about you and want you to thrive while at the same time targeting migrant shelters in this way,” Councilmember Jennifer Gutierrez said in a statement. “He is fully aware of the role informal jobs play in helping these folks get on their feet and this was so clearly a missed opportunity to educate and communicate regulations and rules on proper vehicle registrations.
“While the confiscation was in response to community complaints, I am disappointed at how these actions were performed and don’t agree with the fear and intimidation tactics that the NYPD is performing on behalf of the mayor,” Gutierrez added.
Theo Moore, Vice President of Policy and Programs at the New York Immigration Coalition, called for more outreach to educate migrants about regulations surrounding bikes, both for their benefit and their neighbors’.
“If you take away their e-bike, scooter, moped, not only are you taking away their means of transportation, you’re also taking away the individual’s means of providing for themselves, you’re essentially taking away their jobs,” Moore said. “You’re basically crushing an individual.”
Jesús Ravelo, 28, is the father of two children, ages seven and eight, two younger brothers, a 13-year-old and a nine-year-old and his two aging parents back in his home country of Venezuela. They rely on him to send money homes that he makes driving his moped to complete UberEats deliveries.
“They depend on me,” Ravelo, who lives at the Jefferson Street HERRC said. “If one day I don’t work. Then, one day, they don’t eat. And my children don’t understand when I tell them I don’t have a job today.”
Ravelo said that, when he was staying at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, Mayor Adams paid him and the other migrants a visit.
“We asked him to help us with the work permits because all we want is to work,” Ravelo said. “We aren’t all bad — many people call us bad, and not all of us are bad. The majority of us are parents, and we help our parents, we help our children.”
Two weeks ago, an NYPD raid on another Brooklyn shelter left dozens of migrants out of work after the cops confiscated around 30 mopeds outside the shelter, a repurposed Blink Fitness on the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick.
Juan Esteban, 30, was able to get his back. But some weren’t so lucky, because they didn’t have papers for the vehicles, he said.
Esteban, who’s originally from Colombia and arrived in New York four months ago, paid around $1500 for his bike — an expensive, but necessary purchase, as he can’t get work elsewhere, and delivering Uber Eats is a decent way to make money.
“I had to sit around doing nothing,” Esteban said in Spanish. “My savings didn’t last, but, thank god, I got it back yesterday. But, I was stressed, of course. I was worried. You want to get your motorcycle back and to work.”
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