Editorial: Crack down on fake-bag sellers, not buyers
What's not to like about Chinatown these days?
You can find incredibly fresh fish, sample noodles and dumplings to die for, duck into an Asian art gallery, and along the way snag yourself a "Burberry" scarf for $10 or a "Louis Vuitton" handbag for $20.
There's just one little problem.
Most likely the handbag or scarf are part of an illegal counterfeiting trade that is growing exponentially, officials say, one that's costing the city $1 billion annually in sales and income taxes.
So now Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) wants to criminalize such purchases. While the manufacture and sale of counterfeit goods are already illegal, Chin's measure would also make the purchase of counterfeit trademark goods in the city a misdemeanor, punishable by a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.
Give her credit for tackling the problem head-on.
The bus caravans streaming into Chinatown filled with tourists from across the globe -- on the hunt for "designer" goods at crazy-cheap prices -- are making life much harder for legitimate Chinatown shopkeepers.
Streets and sidewalks are clogged as buyers and sellers conduct furtive business, and Chin's bill says the industry is casting a worrisome pall over the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, the councilwoman has not come up with a solution that is reasonable or practical.
Tourism is a major economic force in the city, attracting about 55 million visitors a year. Is New York really ready to lead away in handcuffs vacationers who happen to jump off a bus and buy a fake Armani dress shirt? Do we really want to add Riker's Island to must-see sights? And how do prosecutors disprove buyers' claims that they just thought they were getting the real thing at an amazing bargain?
Some council members think the infraction for buyers should be a violation rather than a misdemeanor: a ticket and a fine if guilty. But the real answer is that the NYPD needs to do its job and ratchet up enforcement of existing laws on the merchants. Chinatown needs help now. How about a few undercover agents from Des Moines?