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Sidewalk vendor’s books are seized: Necessity or rights violation?

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UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan — It may sound unusual, but a recurring problem with sidewalk bookselling in this neighborhood has reportedly become intense enough that a special police patrol is in place to monitor the situation.

Some of the bookseller's customers complain that the police patrol, along with a mass confiscation of his books, are a restriction of First Amendment rights, while his critics say this is a safety and sanitation issue that is finally being properly addressed.

On July 5, police arrived on Broadway between 72nd and 73rd streets and confiscated at least 10 tables and 6,000 books belonging to the block's longtime sidewalk bookseller, Kirk Davidson.

"Cops on the block, like around the clock," Davidson said to PIX11 News. "Like we're terrorists or something."

Davidson, 62, said that he's sold books here al fresco for 31 years. Over the course of that time, many residents have complained that he's done more than just sell his books every day and leave.

Davidson admits that he stores his books and his tables overnight and in inclement weather, covered with tarps, right on the sidewalk. It is a code violation that has long attracted complaints.

"It's fine to sell their things," said longtime resident Carol Ryan, "but they don't have the right to leave their stuff on the street."

Decades-long resident Fred Gurner was more emphatic. "He had 19 tables!" Gurner exclaimed.

"It was pleasing to see that the sidewalk doesn't belong to one guy."

Police made the seizure last Tuesday. Now, ten days later, an NYPD cruiser has been posted there, around the clock.

"I think it's stupid," said customer Charlese Dawson. "If someone's selling books, why should it matter?"

Her friend, Jorge Echeverria, chimed in. "I would rather someone sell books than drugs on the street," he said, before paying one of the two men who work for Davidson $5.00 for a vintage literary volume.

The confiscation took place after City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, who represents the district, made a request, following what she described as years of hearing about, and seeing, a problem.

"We've had multiple constituent resident complaints about this particular block," she said in an interview.

As for the constant NYPD patrol, she said, "The police are simply making sure the books are not unattended."

Over his three decades selling books on the Broadway sidewalk, Davidson has received more than 190 citations. He's beaten most of them, he said, adding that he'll overcome this latest setback as well.

"I'm gonna get better and bigger," he said, laughing.

Davidson is required to comply with city ordinances that stipulate that wares and tables cannot be left out overnight. So far, while the NYPD patrol has been in place, he has mostly complied.

It has not yet been determined how long the police monitors will remain on scene