Fri, May 7, 2010
By Amanda Massa
People pass by Quami Quamina’s table of books set up on Court Street in Brooklyn every day. Most of the time he goes unnoticed. But after last week’s failed Times Square bomb plot- where two men noticed a suspicious, unattended vehicle and alerted police- street vendors, such as Quamina, are suddenly in the spotlight.
With long hours outside, street vendors are provided with an ample opportunity to observe their surroundings and notice if anything is askew. Quamina, 50, spends at least 45 hours a week standing by his table of books.
Originally from Trinidad, Quamina now calls Brooklyn home. He’s been selling books on this corner for nearly four years and said his eyes are always peeled to his surroundings.
“You see everything,” he said. “You see the sacred and the profane.”
Although Quamina said he has never had to alert police for suspicious activity, he has seen scuffles around his stand in the past. But if he did see something suspicious, he said, he wouldn’t think twice about reporting it. “I think any vendor would do the same,” he said.”
Quamina commended the Times Square street vendor for his role in preventing a disaster. “Big up to the street vendor!” he said.
As far as the possibility of his also being considered a hero, Quamina is okay with it.
“It makes you feel that yes, you’re doing more than just selling, that you’re also trying to keep the city safe,” he said. “It makes you feel that you have a major role to play.”
And they do, especially since street vendors are usually observing specific areas just as much as patrolling officers. As it happens many street vendors are disabled veterans; an 1894 law exempts them from limits on street hawking, or vending.
“We are always watching,” said Michael Falco, a Brooklyn food cart vendor. “We are the eyes and the ears of the street. When we see something is out of the ordinary, we have to make that phone call.”
Falco, a Vietnam War veteran, said that his military training helps him notice anything suspicious. He pays special to anything that is out of place, such as idle cars or packages left unattended, just to be safe.
“It’s a very scary situation, but we have to be vigilant,” said Falco. “We all have to chip in; this is our city. The police can only do so much.” Also on the lookout is Linden Meertins, who is also a veteran. He said he knows when something is not right. “That’s how we are trained,” he said. “We are trained to see these things; we are trained to kill.”
Meertins was in the Army for six years during the 70s and has been a vendor along Court Street, selling hats and sunglasses, for the past ten. “We are very observant; we are always looking for the enemy,” he said.
Protecting others makes his job more than just making a living, he added. “It increases our safety if everyone is participating, noticing things,” Meertins said. “It helps everybody here, the police, and the public.”