By Jennipher Vasquez
Communities across California have joined forces to safeguard street vendors in the wake of a recent homicide.
Lorenzo Perez, 45, worked as a street vendor in Fresno, California. He was approached by an 18-year-old male and shot in the head March 21.
The 18-year-old pretended he was going to buy something from Perez before murdering him.
The incident led to a united effort by community members and street vendor advocates statewide to provide security, tasers, pepper spray and other forms of protection.
Edin Enamorado, 33, of Cudahy, California, is one of many across the state who advocates for street vendors. He provides aid to those who have been attacked or fear for their safety.
Enamorado worked with the Bernie Sanders campaign as the regional field director, overseeing five counties between Oxnard and Salinas. He is currently a research coordinator for USC, which collaborates with the National Institute of Health.
Street vendor Gerardo Ivan Olmeda Del Pilar, 22, was brutally attacked while selling fruit in Long Beach on Jan. 16. Enamorado said this attack sparked the movement in support of street vendors.
He traveled to Long Beach with his team to help fundraise for the victim and found ways to help others in the community who are at risk of being attacked.
“We got several social media comments saying we should give them tasers, so that’s what we started doing.” Enamorado said. “But then as we started talking to self-defense experts, they said that pepper spray was better.”
He said two other attacks against street vendors occured in Long Beach while he was there, prompting him to begin hiring teams of armed security to accompany the vendors while they work.
Enamorado funded these resources out of his own pocket in the beginning. Once attention toward his work grew, he created a GoFundMe for people to contribute.
The donations have significantly increased, allowing Enamorado the ability to provide self-defense mechanisms to street vendors.
His advice to those wanting to get involved and help street vendors within their own communities: talk to them first.
“Try seeing what the vendors have experienced and offer what they need,” Enamorado said. “Make sure you give them the help and if you don’t have much, maybe just driving around making sure they’re good and giving them company while they’re working.”
He encourages anyone to reach out to him so they can work together to organize safety nets for street vendors in their communities.
Enamorado has worked closely in Fresno with a fellow advocate for street vendors, Alexandria Ramos-O’Casey, to provide pepper sprays to local vendors.
Ramos-O’Casey was his former supervisor when he worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign. She reached out to him after the death of Perez in an effort to broaden safety resources for street vendors.
She said the work being done has grown into a community effort by local volunteers in Southeast Fresno, college clubs and friends or families of local street vendors. The organizers have been reaching out to potential volunteers in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Hanford.
“This is going to continue to expand,” Ramos-O’Casey said. “We want to make sure that we’re aware of the resources, aware of the best practices and just make them easier to access for the vendors who are asking for this type of support.”
Her team is also working to provide audio and video recording devices to vendors.
She said they have requested the devices due to unfavorable encounters with local law enforcement and described an incident with a fruit vendor who was jailed for attempting to use his knife for self-defense when a group attempted to rob him.
“When they are trying to enact their self-defense rights, oftentimes our police departments aren’t very nice about it.” Ramos-O’Casey said.
The fruit vendor believed the police were there to help him take down information about the robbery, but instead was arrested and taken to jail for a month after the incident.
“This innocent man was put in jail, risked his life not only with all this money he was losing from not being able to work for a month, but at the same time risking his life in the middle of a pandemic in a jail that’s full of (COVID-19).” she said.
The charges against the fruit vendor were eventually dropped and he was released due to lack of evidence.
Ramos-O’Casey said the incident with the fruit vendor is one of many examples of how the recording devices will maintain their innocence and allow them to do their job.
Free self-defense classes for street vendors are now being hosted locally in Fresno and in areas of Southern California that Enamorado has helped provide safety resources to.
“When Lorenzo passed, it not only reminded us of how much violence these folks are going through but also just how many other systemic issues they’re going through.” Ramos-O’Casey said. “Something needs to be done or else this really has an unfortunate opportunity to continue and we didn’t want that to happen.”