(CNN)Miguel Medina stopped his push cart in downtown Los Angeles and reached inside for a paleta. Within seconds, he was knocked unconscious.
When the 58-year-old street vendor opened his eyes, he was on the ground and surrounded by firefighters, he says. His head "hurt a lot" and his wallet was gone.
Medina, who was robbed on Tuesday, is among several street vendors who have been have beaten and robbed in recent months in states like California, Texas and Colorado.
As cities shut down and reopened during the coronavirus pandemic, vendors have relied on selling Mexican ice pops known as paletas, corn on the cob and other snacks to survive. But some like Medina, who has been a paletero for nearly a decade, are considering quitting a job that has allowed them to bring joy to their communities.
"They didn't say anything. They just hit me and knocked me out," Medina told CNN.
Medina says he had just started walking through the streets of Los Angeles with his cart on Tuesday when a man and a woman approached him, asking him for an ice pop.
Video from a surveillance camera released by police shows Medina reaching inside the push cart seconds before one of them punches him, knocking him to the ground.
The man and woman "brutally robbed" the ice cream vendor, the Los Angeles Police Department tweeted.
In the video, the suspects searched Medina before fleeing in a black Toyota Avalon. The suspects have not been arrested, police said.
Medina, who has no family in Los Angeles, spent nearly three days in the hospital for a head injury, he said. He said he still feels disoriented, suffers constant pain in his head and is unable to walk by himself.
A spokesperson with the Los Angeles Police Department told CNN that detectives have not seen a spike in crimes against street vendors but noted that "robberies are up."
An activist is teaching them self-defense
After hearing multiple reports of street vendors being attacked, Marcos Navarro became fed up when a 68-year-old ice cream vendor died earlier this month after he was shot while being robbed in Austin, Texas.
"From that moment, I kind of lost it," Navarro told CNN. "I've had enough, you know, because it's my raza (people) ... (I thought) if I have a voice I got to speak out."
Navarro, a community activist in National City, California, started fundraising to buy pepper spray for paleteros, eloteros, tamaleros and other street vendors in Southern California who work by themselves.
"I wanted to put up some sort of protection so that way they can have a chance to run," he said. "It's not illegal to carry pepper spray and you can use it in self-defense."
In the past weeks, he and a group of volunteers have met with about 60 vendors, giving them pepper spray kits and teaching them how to use them.
"When they walk through our streets, they should feel secure and they should feel protected," he said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Ortiz told CNN there has been a recent increase in robberies and assaults against street vendors in the county. Ortiz said vendors can use pepper spray to protect themselves.
"If they are getting assaulted, they have every right to protect themselves," Ortiz said.
'We want to feel safe again,' street vendor says
Viliulfo Fernandez had just served corn in a cup to two men in Long Beach, California, when one of them pulled a gun and demanded his money, the vendor says.
"I took off running and soon I realized that it was a mistake," Fernandez told CNN.
The 50-year-old was punched several times, pistol-whipped and robbed on June 29, police said. When paramedics arrived, Fernandez was laying on the ground and was so confused that he couldn't tell them where he lived or a relative's phone number.
The suspects left in a tan Mercedes-Benz coupe after taking some cash and a cell phone, police said in a statement. They have not been arrested, said Arantxa Chavarria, a spokeswoman with the Long Beach Police Department.
The attack left Fernandez with a head injury, lacerations in his face and a fear of returning to work but it hasn't stopped him from wanting to seek justice.
Fernandez, his neighbors and other vendors have been marching to city government buildings to ask authorities to protect street vendors.
"We want to feel safe again and more police presence," Fernandez says. "I used to walk in the streets happy, selling my elotes and now, I feel anxious just by seeing other people."