When powerful people make mistakes, they tend to blame less powerful people. Denver police are powerful. Denver food truck owners are not.
This power dynamic, not public safety, is why the Denver city government recently banned food trucks from operating in Lower Downtown over the weekend. That is why the city continued to take arbitrary, half-baked responses in response to the backlash.
On July 17, a Denver police officer opened fire on a LoDo crowd. Officers accidentally shot six innocent bystanders waiting in line at a nearby food truck, in addition to the person they were aiming for.
Did the police take any responsibility for their actions?
No. Instead, over the weekend he banned food trucks from operating in LoDo, although it is indisputable that the food trucks had nothing to do with the incident. Food truck operators were never responsible for the fact that innocent people were caught in a police shootout.
Worse, removing the food truck makes LoDo less safe. Research shows food trucks reduce crime. This is because it is run by law-abiding citizens who can act as “eyes and ears” on the streets.
That also applies to LoDo. A drunk party leaving LoDo’s bar stopped in his food truck, had something to eat, and chilled out a bit before heading home. Taking food trucks out of the equation is clearly a bad idea.
But the added safety provided by food trucks is less important to Denver officials than staying on top of the police department’s favor. And the police department isn’t trying to free their scapegoat without a fight.
Food truck owners are attractive targets for scapegoats due to their lack of political power. They tend to come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are often immigrants.
Thankfully, this apparent bullying has led to public outrage. Many people spoke out against the ban, and many food truck owners told the media how harmful the ban would be to their business. sent, explained the issue of the ban, and asked city officials to repeal it entirely.
Rather than apologizing for wrongdoing and rescinding the ban, police took a series of half-hearted steps aimed only at finding the bare minimum to defuse public pressure.
Before the letter, police said they might make the ban permanent. But then they said they would allow six food trucks to operate, albeit only until midnight. added a “restricted area” to allow more food trucks to stay open until 9pm.
The sudden willingness to reform the ban makes it clear that this has nothing to do with protecting public safety in the first place. Instead, Denver’s police are doing the opposite. The ban is a simple case of politically powerful groups using their power to scapegoat less politically powerful groups to avoid taking responsibility for their own mistakes.
It would be absurd to allow the return of certain food trucks without completely rescinding the ban, but these arbitrary changes are at least an improvement over an outright ban. But that’s not enough. After all, this ban should never have existed in the first place.
All the government can do is apologize and completely remove the ban now. Not only is it the right thing for Hood and his truck owners and their families, it also makes LoDo a safer place.
Justin Pearson of Miami is a senior attorney at the nonprofit Institute of Justice, challenging restrictions on food trucks and street vending in cities across the country.