Rasul, an indigenous D.C. native, is a street vendor on 14th street who advocates for D.C. street vendors, bringing attention to the mistreatment vendors face. Before street vending, Rasul worked a full-time job until he suffered a work-related injury that resulted in a disability. Rasul was let go from that job and unsuccessfully applied for worker’s compensation. As a result, Rasul could not afford the needed medical assistance independently. Realizing his bills were piling up and that finding a new job was becoming impossible, Rasul decided to become an entrepreneur through street vending. A certified graphic artist, Rasul used his skills to design t-shirts to sell and, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he began selling masks.

Rasul’s experience with police officers has been negative during his time as a street vendor. Rasul is often stopped and questioned about his street vending license and told to leave the area or face arrest. Other times, officers have stared at Rasul without saying anything, hoping to provoke a negative reaction from him or other street vendors around him. Instead, Rasul packs up his merchandise for the day. With the current tension between police officers and minority communities, Rasul works in fear when street vending because he does not believe officers will spare his freedom or life over a street vending violation or other minor infractions. Additionally, after witnessing officers harass other street vendors, Rasul’s fears and discomfort with police officers are continuously supported. He recalls seeing officers yell at vendors for not having a street vending license and other officers becoming so frustrated with vendors that they escalate the situation by throwing the vendor’s food or becoming physical with the vendor. Nevertheless, Rasul overcomes his fears and discomfort every day because street vending is his only income source.

Like many street vendors in D.C., Rasul cannot afford an arrest or a criminal fine. For Rasul, getting arrested or fined for a street vending violation not only sets him back financially, but it may also result in him losing his housing situation. Rasul is currently living in public housing and under D.C. law, a housing provider can evict a tenant for their involvement in criminal activity regardless of whether the person is convicted at the end of the day. To lessen the possibility of being arrested, Rasul sticks to a strict 9 am – 3 pm vending schedule when he perceives there to be a lower police presence on 14th street.

Tired of the constant harassment he and other vendors have experienced, Rasul thought to himself, “what can I do to make this better?” and became an advocate for street vendors and street vending reform. He went around D.C. and asked vendors if they noticed increased police presence or increased police interactions. When vendors tell Rasul there is an increase of police presence or interactions, Rasul will visit the area and check with vendors that may have been affected to check-in to see how they are doing after the incident, and also to offer guidance on how to deescalate future police interactions. Additionally, Rasul works to maintain peace among vendors.

Like everyone across D.C., the pandemic has disrupted Rasul’s life and financial stability. For Rasul and other vendors, the financial impact is severe because working as street vendors they fall in the excluded workers category making them ineligible for unemployment benefits and COVID-19 stimulus checks. Because Rasul falls in the high-risk category for COVID-19, he has cut back on the number of days he vends and does advocacy work. Reducing the number of days Rasul vends has landed him in financial jeopardy. With the end of the pandemic nowhere in sight, he is looking for ways to return to his regular vending schedule while not putting himself and others at high risk. However, Rasul has used the pandemic as motivation to strengthen the street vending community by handing out cleaning supplies and masks to vendors and teaching them how to use contactless payment methods for their customers. Moreover, Rasul hopes this pandemic will change D.C.’s attitude towards street vending so that they can see street vendors are not causing any harm and should have a fair chance at earning a living.