Thousands of people have donated more than $50,000 to an online campaign launched this weekend in support of a California hot dog vendor ticketed Saturday by a U.C. Berkeley police officer, who also took money from the man’s wallet.
In a cellphone video, two campus police officers are seen shutting down an alleged unlicensed vending operation outside the university football stadium. Martin Flores, the bystander who recorded the incident, is heard protesting as one of the officers folds up dollar bills he’s seized from the vendor’s wallet.
“That’s not right,” said Flores.
“That’s how it works,” the officer responds. “We’ll take it to the judge and the judge can decide whether or not it’s right.”
“This is law and order in action,” the officer adds.
“Walk 200 feet to your left and you’ll see drinking in public, but a hardworking man gets his money taken away and a ticket,” says Flores.
Flores’ initial Facebook post has since been made private, but other social media accounts have posted the video, where it has been viewed tens of millions of times.
Flores launched the GoFundMe campaign on Sunday, which claims to be on behalf of the hot dog vendor, since identified as Beto Matias.
The fundraiser page says the money will be used to cover Matias’ legal fees and personal losses, and that additional funds will go to support any other vendors “robbed of their hard earned living through citations and removal of their carts.”
Flores is working to organize a public event in Los Angeles in the coming weeks, where he plans to present donations to Matias and announce an advocacy campaign for street vendors, he said.
“We want people to be recognized and for everybody to know how these funds are spent,” he said. “We want to highlight the issue of street vendors and put humanity into their work and not criminality.”
Flores said he was surprised by the success of the fundraiser, and now hopes it could grow large enough to help Matias buy a food truck, something that has long been a dream of his. But Flores maintained that Matias’ confrontation with law enforcement is a reflection of a larger problem.
“He’s just one of thousands of people who face challenges, whether it’s from an officer, or from the public or from the stigma,” said Flores. “They go through challenges to make a living, but they’re probably the most humble workers that we have along with the farmworkers.”
Matias has admitted that he did not have a permit to sell food on campus, but believes the officer went too far by confiscating his cash, which amounted to $60.
Some Berkeley students appear to agree with Flores’ indignation over the incident. A petition calling for the removal of the officer, identified as Sean Aranas, has received tens of thousands of signatures. Zaynab AbdulQadir-Morris, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, has accused Aranas of harassing other people on campus, and plans to bring the issue up with university officials this week, she told the Daily Californian.
In a statement Monday, U.C. Berkeley Vice Chancellor Scott Biddy said the university is investigating the incident to examine “procedural and management issues” it may have raised.
Aranas was reportedly “acting on orders from a supervisor to issue a citation,” according to ABC7, though it’s not clear of he’d also been told to seize the alleged proceeds. Matias was the only vendor to get slapped with an illegal vending ticket on Saturday, UCPD told Berkeleyside. Three others were detained, but released with warnings.
Footage of Matias’ run-in with the police has also sparked a conversation about a controversial law enforcement tool known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows officers to seize cash and property from suspects, even when they haven’t been convicted of a crime ― and in many cases haven’t even been charged.
If owners want to challenge seizures, they must often fight lengthy and costly legal battles to prove their innocence and reclaim their property before it’s permanently turned over to police. Critics of the practice claim it is routinely abused, and most commonly targets vulnerable individuals who may not have the means to challenge improper actions.
This article has been updated with comments from Flores.