NYPD Allegedly Threw 56-Year-Old Street Artist To Ground For 'Illegally Touching The Sidewalk'

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

A judge acquitted a New York City street artist last week of charges that he put his merchandise on the sidewalk in Times Square.

Yahia Liu, 56, says NYPD threw him to the ground and stepped on his leg over a byzantine street vendor regulation unofficially known as the “merch can’t touch the ground” law, Gothamist reported.

“I can’t lift heavy things,” Liu said after his arrest. “If my hand has problems, I can’t work.”

The judge ruled “not guilty” in Liu’s case before his attorney could even finish his defense.

Liu, a Chinese immigrant who lives in Queens, usually works at 44th Street and Broadway, where he draws pictures on the spot for late-night tourists. He says on the night of July 13 he was approached by an officer who said one of three drawings hanging off a nearby stand was illegally touching the sidewalk. Liu said the drawing wasn’t even on the ground, but it was inches from the sidewalk.

While the police report says an officer asked Liu if the drawing was his and he said yes, Liu said otherwise in court.

Liu makes colorful drawings of people’s names in Chinese calligraphy. He claims that his work goes straight from the easel and into the hands of customers. The drawing in question belonged to an artist set up next to him. The officer arrested Liu anyway.

The Urban Justice Center, which advocates for vendor rights, says that most of those street vendors arrested are immigrants and people of color.

“It was really satisfying to be able to have the vendor tell his story,” said Liu’s attorney Sean Basinki, founder and director of the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center.

“The system is set up in every way so you will take a plea and maybe have to take a class at Midtown Community Courthouse or some other slap on the wrist,” Basinski said.

Sources: Gothamist, ThinkProgress