Street vendors are common throughout California, becoming familiar and beloved figures in some neighborhoods. However, their visibility also means they can easily be targeted in racist crimes as a majority of street vendors in the state are Latin American. Marlen Benitez Munoz was working her fruit stand when she was pummeled by a car on Frontage Road near Highland Avenue around 3:20 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13 in San Bernardino. The 28-year-old mother of four went into a coma according to a Go Fund Me page set up for her and is in the intensive care at the Loma Linda University Medical Center, KTLA reports. Investigators believe the driver intentionally ran her over, based on witness statements and evidence recovered at the scene, according to police.
This isn’t the first time a street vendor has been harmed in an alleged intentional act of violence. Earlier this year street vendors were being attacked and filmed for social media attention. Adelaido Bernabe Urias was a 70-year-old paletero was shot and killed in August in Austin. This past Sunday Francisco Velasquez was shot in the leg by a group of teenagers in Fresno, he was previously stabbed in March, according to a Go Fund Me.
“We did not come here to steal bread. We simply came to work. This racism has been occurring for a long time, ” her father Benigno Benítez told Telemundo. He said she had four little kids and was fighting for her life as a result of the injuries she sustained on her head and abdomen.
“The individual who ran over her sped his truck against my daughter and that isn’t fair. That isn’t fair. She is just working,” Benitez said.
Authorities arrested the suspect, 42-year-old Robert Spargo, and booked him on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. Detectives found several empty aerosol spray cans in the SUV, leading them to suspect he was under the influence. KTLA reports. Spargo is being held on $500,000 bail and the investigation is ongoing.
She recently began commuting daily from her home in Vernon to work as a vendor, her brother-in-law Alejandro Isable told KTLA. He is now taking care of her children while she’s in the hospital.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that legalized street vending in California starting in 2019, the bill is also known as the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act. The bill states vendors cannot be banned from working in a park, cities can’t determine where they operate, and they no longer need to ask adjacent businesses for their permission.