LITTLE VILLAGE – Street vendors grappling with a spate of muggings this week slammed Mayor Lori Lightfoot after she suggested they stop carrying cash to avoid further crime.
Vendors and city officials said they have seen an increase in robberies in the Little Village business district on 26th Street in recent months. Southwest Side aldermen have spoken on the matter since the end of last year.
During a debate last week, Lightfoot defended his approach to public safety and the way he has tried to address the concerns of street vendors. One strategy he said officials are considering is to help transition suppliers not to use cash and to protect money better.
“We’ve been in Little Village working with those hucksters, figuring out the nature of the crime, making sure we’re doing something in concert with them to help them, making sure their money is safe, using no money, if possible, using other forms of transaction to take care of oneself ” said Lightfoot.
But other candidates, elected leaders and salesmen say going cashless isn’t feasible for everyone and wouldn’t solve the problem on its own.
“Mayor Lightfoot telling the citizens of Chicago who have been robbed to stop carrying cash is one of the most out of this world statements I have ever heard from the mayor,” Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García said in a statement Thursday.
García, who is also running for mayor, was a 22nd District alderman for Little Village from 1986 to 1993.
“The problem is crime and she has done nothing about it. She is now blaming the crime victims for being robbed,” she said.
Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) said his office has hosted seminars with the Little Village Chamber of Commerce to teach sellers the options of accepting non-cash payments to reduce losses in the event of a robbery. He said there are apps and equipment providers they can use for free.
But Rodriguez stressed that it’s just one way to help reduce the risk street vendors face.
“For anyone who says going cashless is the answer is ridiculous,” he told Block Club. “It can’t be the whole playbook.”
Rodriguez said he has been working with the 10th Police Precinct, which covers Little Village and parts of Pilsen, to increase officer presence along 26th Street during the night and early morning. He said he has personally noticed the increase and heard the same from vendors.
The alderman also said he plans to meet with other city council members to discuss solutions. Other vendors were also robbed in Gage Park, Brighton Park and near Chinatown, police say.
Going cashless could make trading more difficult for some, sellers say.
Zitlali, who has asked only to be identified by name, works at a cart selling street food outside the Discount Mall on 26th Street near Albany Avenue. He said one of his colleagues was attacked and robbed in November.
Going cashless might work for some people as a solution, but not for everyone, Zitlali said.
“There are tech people who understand this,” he said. “But it’s complicated to take credit cards. We have to learn. It could even be worse, because if [people] come and rob you and there is no money, they could attack”.
A man who has been selling churros in the area for 15 years and asked not to be identified for his safety said he was fortunately not robbed. While the robberies occurred in the early morning hours, he said he sells during the day and doesn’t feel too insecure.
In her experience, people don’t want to pay with anything other than cash, she said. She also mentioned that using something to take card or phone payments could incur additional charges.
“We would pay [more] as well,” he said.
Olga Martinez said she has been selling street food on 26th Street for more than 25 years. She also said she was robbed recently.
“Of course I’m scared,” she said of the possibility of being attacked again.
Martinez also said that having no cash would not prevent her or others from sustaining bodily harm during an attempted robbery.
The Chicago Police Department said it did not have precise data on how many vendors were robbed recently and could not comment on distribution strategies.
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