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Here’s Why Food Delivery Drivers Worry for Their Safety, Despite Curfew Exemption

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A delivery worker cycles through Kips Bay in Manhattan, June 4, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

With the city operating on an 8 p.m. curfew, some food delivery workers are skipping shifts to stay home — out of confusion or fear for their safety. 

They want to avoid the fate of the food-delivery cyclist who turned apparently unaware onto Central Park West from 108th Street on Thursday, where police had dispersed peaceful protesters at around 8:15 p.m. and begun arresting stragglers.

Then the officers came for the delivery man, according to a witness who captured the incident on video.

The footage shows the delivery worker pleading with the police to inspect his phone to look for the app that proves he’s on duty as an essential worker.

“Are you serious?” the deliverer cried incredulously as he was led away in handcuffs. “I’m working! I’m working!”

Restaurant workers are among the exceptions to orders barring anyone on sidewalks or streets from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the wake of looting that followed days of protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. 

That makes cyclists and drivers delivering food during the pandemic essential workers, exempt from the curfew. But many food deliverers say the risk of being caught in the crosshairs between police and protesters isn’t worth it. 

“The images and the videos that you can look on the web — they show you the brutal police force that the police use right now,” said Juan Diego, who delivers for the food delivery app GrubHub. 

“It’s better to stay home and stay safe. No one wants to get beaten that way,” he told THE CITY. 

Typically, the Venezuela native would work well into the evening delivering food in Williamsburg on his motorized bicycle. But he’s now stopped picking up orders around 7 p.m. to avoid being outside. 

His four roommates in Bushwick also deliver food. All but one has opted not to work during the curfew this week, he said. 

A delivery worker cycles through Kips Bay in Manhattan, June 4, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

As he stood outside a Harlem Chipotle Wednesday afternoon, 28-year-old Javier Ángeles said he changed his delivery schedule so he’d arrive home to The Bronx before the curfew went into effect. 

The previous day he’d been asked to deliver an order near a protest after 8 p.m., Ángeles told THE CITY. That spooked the Mexico native. 

“We are afraid that they could grab us, arrest us and deport us,” he said. 

A $3 Delivery

For Ángeles, changing his delivery schedule comes at a cost. 

Ángeles began delivering for DoorDash when the pandemic hit and welding work dried up. His income from delivery fell short of what he says his family needs to survive, even before the curfew.  

“There are very few deliveries, and very cheap. Today I have to take a $3 delivery. I’ve been working since 10 in the morning, and it’s the only delivery I’ve had,” he said, pointing at the order on his iPhone screen.

“It’s not enough for rent. It isn’t even enough to eat. Our life has become very complicated,” he said. 

Councilmember Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn) told THE CITY that the hastily announced curfew showcases how “the city and the state have no plans to protect vulnerable essential workers.” 

“I’m trying to get that into City Hall’s thinking — how do we make their lives easier? It’s not put more barriers and burdens on people that face enough barriers and burdens in their lives right now,” he said. 

‘How do we make their lives easier?’ Brooklyn Councilmember Mark Treyger asked.

When the curfew was announced earlier this week, business owners in southern Brooklyn reached out to Treyger’s office over concerns about their employees who work overnight or are out delivering food. 

An FAQ the mayor’s office released Tuesday, hours before the curfew moved from 11 p.m. to 8 p.m., said: “If you are stopped, you only need to identify yourself as an essential worker,” and described documentation as optional. 

Treyger told THE CITY that he’s received the opposite advice from city officials. They told him employers should print out letters for their workers detailing they are essential workers allowed to be out during the curfew. 

“You’re telling people that they have to carry documentation and to work with a cop, after you know damn well that’s led to dangerous and bad outcomes,” he said. 

“It just speaks to the level of disconnect from the real world and all the rhetoric we’ve been hearing about how this is a city and state for all people,” Treyger added. “Time and time again their actions have not been aligned with their words and their pledges.” 

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

‘I’m Black and I’m Driving’

Among one of the letter-carrying essential workers is DivineGod Gurley, 42, who has been delivering meals through Postmates full-time since he was laid off from his job at the 42nd Street Icon Parking back in March. 

While Gurley has been able to make ends meet for most of the pandemic, the recent protests and subsequent curfew have complicated things.

Though his first night driving his car past the 8 p.m. curfew went smoothly, save for a few traffic jams, he said he’s been on high alert.

“My girlfriend, who’s a probation officer, likes to ride with me as I do my deliveries when she gets off from work,” said Gurley, who lives in Crown Heights. “And I was telling her, ‘Yo I want to get off the streets because I’m scared.’”

Crown Heights resident DivineGod Gurley delivers meals through Postmates.

Courtesy of DivineGod Gurley

Postmates provided a letter certifying him as an essential worker. But Gurley said he’s not going to assume the credential will help police to discern him from protesters roaming the streets past curfew.

“Even having that letter, I was still afraid of just having to come in contact with police,” he said. “I mean there’s really no precautions to take. There’s nothing I can do except drive and hope that I don’t get pulled over. 

“And that in itself is hard to say won’t happen. I’ve been pulled over plenty of times just because I’m black and I’m driving.”

Gurley said that in the past, he’s told officers that he works in the food industry, to no avail.

“I’ve showed them the app proving that I was doing deliveries, and they’ve still asked to search my car or told me it smelled like I had been smoking. And that was just the norm before people were protesting. There’s nothing I can do to protect myself. There’s nothing I can do.”

In the days to come, as the curfew runs until at least Sunday, Gurley said he’ll be altering his late-night hours depending on the mood of the city. 

“If I see things start to get chaotic, then I’ll just get off the road,” he said.

Representatives for GrubHub, Postmates and Doordash offered similar statements on how their platforms are suspending services in certain areas to abide by curfews, although New York City is not among them. 

“We’re evaluating the situation in each city individually and making decisions based on what we hear on the ground from local officials, restaurants and drivers,” a GrubHub spokesperson said.

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