Police Target Weekly Open-Air Market in Sunset Park

Immigrant vendors at Plaza Tonatiuh refused to back down when NYPD confronted them on Sunday morning. They have vowed to return.

Amba Guerguerian & Ash J Apr 7, 2023

On Sunday around 11 a.m., supporters and organizers of Plaza Tonatiuh, a weekly open-air market held in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, sent out a call on social media for people to come to the park and help prevent NYPD and NYC Parks Department officers from ticketing vendors for not having permits. Tensions had been escalating for the previous two hours as the police kept vendors from setting up their stalls. 

Read this Twitter thread by @AshAgony in order to see how Sunday morning at Sunset Park unfolded.

Plaza Tonatiuh is an unpermitted market held on Sundays from May to October. It was founded in 2021 by Mexicanos Unidos, a socialist community organization (read an interview with the chair). By the end of last season, there were more than 80 immigrant vendors participating in the Plaza. Every week, narrow pathways between rows of vendors in the park were crowded with attendees of all ages. Vendors sell Mexican and other Latin American food, household items, toys, clothes, jewelry and more.

Sunday was supposed to be the first Plaza of the season, but no vendors were able to sell their goods — the police threatened anyone that tried with tickets.  @AshAgony tweeted that cops “targeted a man allegedly selling cotton candy, ran up on him, & tried to grab him. Luckily, people from the crowd were able to de-arrest the man.”

According to a Twitter thread by @AshAgony, which Mexicanos Unidos has verified the accuracy of, police showed up ready to shut down the market, and were partially successful. 

“The [NYPD] Community Affairs officer said that Parks definitively does not want us to set up the plaza. We’re on their radar. They know how big we are, and they dont want us to set up,” Leo, the chair of Mexicanos Unidos, told The Indypendent. 

An hours-long standoff ensued between police and Plaza Tonatiuh participants and supporters — a group that grew to more than 100 people at its height. At one point, Plaza supporters stood in front of a woman selling ice cream to protect her from being ticketed by police for vending without a permit. While the ice cream vendor managed to avoid a ticket, police tackled and arrested one of the activists who was blocking them and charged him with inciting a riot, Mexicanos Unidos told The Indy. In another instance, Plaza participants were able to de-arrest a vendor who found themself in the snares of the police.

Plaza participants still gathered at Sunset Park on Sunday, but without vending or other market festivities. “Liberty, bread, and dignity,” read a banner. Photo: Twitter/@AshAgony

Plaza participants were able to maintain space in the park despite the continued police presence. By 2 p.m., the mood became more celebratory. Since vendors weren’t allowed to sell food, they gave it away while others played Bomba music that people danced to. 

Plaza Tonatiuh will return to Sunset Park this Sunday, April 9 from 9 a.m.–9 p.m. There will be traditional Mexican dancers or danzantes, Easter-related children’s activities, a general assembly and political studies. Follow @plazatonatiuh and @mexicanosxunidos on Instagram to keep up!

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