Hero retail store workers beg for better laws as NYC’s deadly crime wave rages

A tragic event occurred Monday, May 8, outside my Associated Supermarket in the Mount Eden neighborhood of The Bronx: A fight turned into a deadly stabbing right outside our front door.

While it may be easy to write this off as an isolated incident, the truth is crimes in and around stores have been getting worse.

For these reasons, we need Albany to act on legislation that will protect retail workers, improve safety and show consumers we take these issues seriously.

Not too long ago, the retail workers of New York City were revered.

At the height of the pandemic, when hundreds of New Yorkers were dying every day and thousands more getting sick, 7 p.m. was a time when New Yorkers would pop out of their windows and clang pots and pans to cheer our essential and vital workers.

Among that group of doctors and first responders were retail workers who kept New York City fed at tremendous personal risk.

Dozens of grocery-store workers died.

Retail workers and owners came in because we had no other choice — without us, New York City would have withered away. We did it because we love New York.

Since the pandemic’s start, however, retail work has become increasingly dangerous.

Mount Eden neighborhood
The incident occured outside Associated Supermarket in the Mount Eden neighborhood of The Bronx.
Peter Gerber

east 167 street and Sheridan avenue
One male was stabbed and critically injured.
Peter Gerber

Retail theft is on the rise, with robbery, burglary and other crimes increasing by 22%.

And while 327 offenders accounted for 30% of New York City’s 22,000 retail theft arrests in 2022, recidivists were arrested almost 6,600 times, for an average of 20 times each.

The results of this are obvious: Merchants have made approximately 63,000 complaints — most going unresolved.

As a result, shoplifting is vastly underreported and shopkeepers are putting themselves in harm’s way to resolve altercations.

These are not just stats and figures: Assaults on grocery-store or bodega workers are happening nearly every day.

These are working people — often immigrants and people of color — who are just trying to go about their days, make a living for their families and serve their community.

Workers who get attacked are not looking for confrontations, they are not looking to be law enforcement and they are not looking for trouble.

Often they are just protecting themselves from aggressive behavior. In fact, we often tell our workers not to confront people because we don’t know if they have a knife or a gun. It’s just not worth it.

But sometimes confrontations do happen, and when they do, they can be very dangerous and scary.

Retail theft scene in bronx
Retail theft is on the rise, with robbery, burglary and other crimes increasing by 22%.
Peter Gerber

I am part of a coalition called Collective Action to Protect Our Stores, and we have publicly released several videos that show just how frightening these can be: workers threatened with knives, cashiers beat up and workers endangered with weapons.

Common-sense fixes

We were called essential workers once, and we still are, just nobody pays as much attention to us anymore.

We are crying out for help, which is why Collective Action to Protect Our Stores is backing numerous pieces of legislation in Albany that are going to help us work in safer environments.

These common-sense pieces of legislation should be no-brainers for the Legislature in the final weeks of this session.

They include a bill by Assemblymember Manny De Los Santos and Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton that elevates an assault of a retail worker to the class-D felony of assault in the second degree.

Assemblymember Manny De Los Santos
Assemblymember Manny De Los Santos and Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton are working on a bill to protect retail workers from thief and violence.
Kevin C. Downs for NY Post

This would make assaulting a retail worker on par with assaulting an MTA worker. People need to think twice before they attack a hard-working person in retail, and this legislation will create that deterrent.

Other pieces of legislation include a bill to create the offense of fostering the sale of stolen goods, to help stop people from reselling items they steal, and raising a subsequent offense to grand larceny in the fourth degree.

Finally, we are asking for district attorneys to use “Harm on Harm,” a tool recently added in the bail-reform laws that allows DAs to request and set bail for repeat offenders who are facing charges in another case and are rearrested for causing another harm.

It was easy to support retail workers when we were fighting and in some cases dying to keep New York City alive. Now, with weeks to go in this legislative session, we are asking our elected officials to step up once again to protect us. We can’t wait any longer.

Nallely De Jesus is the owner of Associated Supermarkets in The Bronx.

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