Debate on City’s Counterfeit Goods Bill Continues
City Council Member Margaret Chin, whose district includes Chinatown, is still fighting for legislation she introduced to the City Council this April that would punish anyone caught knowingly purchasing counterfeit goods with a fine of up to $1,000 and a one-year jail sentence. She believes the bill would stop tourists from flocking to the neighborhood for fake Prada handbags and redirect their interests – and spending power – to Chinatown’s numerous other delights. At present, the bill is under review in the Committee on Public Safety and a vote will likely take place once the City Council’s session resumes in the fall. Chin, who said she carries a leather bag she purchased from a legal discount store – “There are a lot of those stores in the city and they’re very affordable!” – plans to champion the bill this fall when the City Council is back in session.
Chin said there were many economic and ethical reasons that led her to introduce the bill, including more than $1 billion in lost city tax revenue, the reported use of child labor in the production of counterfeit goods and the alleged connection between the sale of such goods and criminal organizations.
“I have a lot of support from my constituents, from people who live in the neighborhood to small business owners who are sick and tired of people assuming they sell counterfeit goods,” Chin said, citing her drive to protect her district as the main reason for introducing the bill.
—Esther Wang, Director of the Chinatown Tenants Union
But many Chinatown residents remain skeptical of the proposed bill and what it can accomplish.
“Our overall feeling was that it’s a bit of a misuse of people’s time to be pushing for a bill that would be punishing people who want to buy fake Louis Vuitton bags,” said Esther Wang, director of the Chinatown Tenants Union.
Wang, whose role involves combating displacement in Manhattan’s gentrifying Chinatown, believes fighting rapid development in the area would have a more significant impact than going after buyers of counterfeit bags. She also fears that the bill could have detrimental effects on the neighborhood’s poorest residents and small business owners.
“The reality is that it is a part of the local economy,” said Wang, who said she sees little support for the bill from other elected officials. “I think there would be a domino effect. A lot of tourists come to Chinatown to go to Canal Street because they want to purchase handbags or scarves or whatnot, but then they eat or buy groceries in the neighborhood.”