Mobile taqueros feel harassed by El Monte police

Fermín Martínez and his wife Silvia Janeth in front of their food truck. (Supplied)

Photo: Fermín Martínez / Courtesy

Last July, a video emerged where the owner of Tacos Los Palomos, Fermín Martínez, showed the retaining walls on a sidewalk where he usually installs himself to sell tacos in the city of El Monte. He also showed footage of police and sanitation officers throwing away the food he was selling and said they threatened to remove the food truck he uses for his work.

Martinez, who has been a taco vendor for more than 10 years, said he feels like the El Monte police are harassing them for no reason since they’re not the only street taco vendors in town.

In February 2021, a video went viral where elements of the El Monte police are seen beating Martínez and his wife Silvia Janeth for allegedly assaulting the agents, while the health authorities threw away the food they were selling.

That night Martinez was booked into jail, released on bail and later received a summons to appear in court. Since then the appointment has been postponed several times for different reasons.

“They tell us that because they change prosecutors or because they need more time to appear,” Martínez explained. “But meanwhile the police continue to harass us. There are many taqueros in El Monte but he feels that this anger is only against us.”

Martinez said that during the 2021 incident he was asked to have all his permits in order. With effort, he bought his two food trucks and claims that the letter A was even obtained after an inspector came to check the truck in the city.

not everyone is the same

Martinez said they have refused to leave the city of El Monte because they have a lot of clients on the corner where they usually settle in Mountain View and Valley. He indicated that police officers have arrived who are very friendly and are even surprised when they learn of all the harassment they receive from other officers.

But those agents who are against his taqueria have gone so far as to give Martinez tickets in excess of $2,500 and have mailed other tickets to the father of one of his employees, who has nothing to do with the business.

“It’s ugly when they stop you and fine you, but it’s uglier when it happens to those who are of the same race as you, because we are used to others mistreating us,” Martínez said. “But there are even some officers who are Latino and tell us they don’t speak Spanish.”

The taquero stated that they have already asked the agents why there is so much hate against him and his employees, but there is never a specific answer.

Odilia Romero, director of the organization Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), said it is very unfortunate that vendors like Martínez, who are from the Mixe region of Oaxaca, are harassed by authorities.

“But we must not lose sight of the fact that the police are responding to a City policy of expelling street vendors,” said Romero, emphasizing that these are small businessmen who also employ other people.

Martínez added that he employs around 10 employees, mostly Oaxacan and Guatemalan.

The rules

According to the City of El Monte, street vendors must have a health certificate from the Los Angeles County Department of Health (DPH). Street vendors setting up on private property must show written authorization from the owner.

Additionally, a color photo must be provided if the sales vehicle is a push cart, push cart, dolly, display case, or other non-motorized form of transportation used by a vendor.

DPH indicated that there are common street food establishments that are not allowed in Los Angeles County because they pose a serious health and safety risk. He added that unpermitted street food is done without proper equipment to ensure food is stored, prepared and handled safely.

These include grocery carts used as makeshift food carts, outdoor cooking equipment, sidewalk tables and chairs, public right-of-way blocking, and other common street food setups.

Martínez assured that they have all the necessary permits and that he even obtained some in the city of El Monte, which is why he does not know what the objective of the agents who attack them is.

La Opinion tried to get a reaction from the police and the city of El Monte, but at press time there was no response.