You can learn a lot by paying attention to little things — like churros in subway stations. Selling them there seems harmless enough, yet it’s illegal, unsanitary and contributes to the sense of disorder that places millions of straphangers on edge every day.

So you would think cops would get mild attaboys for addressing the practice in a humane, professional manner, especially from two of the city’s most powerful elected officials — men who would be mayor. Think again.

When police briefly placed a churro peddler in handcuffs Friday afternoon at the Broadway Junction station in Brooklyn, the peddler burst into tears, the cellphone cameras came out and Twitter spooled up.

“No matter what the law says, there is no reason why that many officers needed to encircle, demean and police the poverty of that woman of color,” one bystander tweeted.

This is a common trope. Here’s a translation from Wokese: No matter what the law says, there is no reason to enforce it. Especially if doing so means “policing poverty” — the latest buzz-phrase meant to undermine civic stability while boosting the self-esteem of wokesters.

Of which there are many — including, in this instance, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Friday’s incident was exceeding small beer given the transit system’s woes. Yet over time minor infractions add up to major disruptions, especially when committed by persons who show no particular respect for law in the first place.

The dramatically tearful churro peddler, it turned out, had been issued 10 summonses for illegal vending over the previous five months. Yet there she was, at it again, and whatever else was going on, she had no legitimate beef with the cuffs strapped on her while cops sorted things out.

Yes, there were several officers on hand. But given the time — early Friday evening — and the place — a Brooklyn subway station — it was entirely reasonable given the anti-cop mini-riot at another Brooklyn station beginning at roughly the same time just one week previously.
Context matters, in other words, which is something our elected leadership should respect.

Fat chance. “This kind of enforcement doesn’t make anyone safer,” tweeted Stringer. “Another incident that raises serious questions about the increased police presence in our subways.” Added Johnson: “Over-policing our subways isn’t going to solve anything. We can keep the subway safe without harming people just trying to earn a living.”

But if straphangers have learned anything from the Mayor Bill de Blasio incumbency, it’s that under-policing the subways isn’t very helpful, either. The system belongs to Albany, but its security has always been the responsibility of the NYPD — a function that lives or dies on constancy, attention to detail and cop-on-the-beat accountability.

There were few hell trains during the Giuliani-Bloomberg years, and there are a lot of them today. All that’s changed has been the city’s political leadership and the ethic that rules its police department.

In the 20 years BdB — Before de Blasio — individual transit cops were answerable to their sergeants in a vigorous, statistics-driven accountability chain, CompStat, that stretched high up into One Police Plaza. The system wasn’t perfect — subway vagrants will always be with us — but it worked.

Today, CompStat is nominally a thing, but the sheer volume of stairwell panhandlers, platform mumblers and subway-car squatters testifies to a profound lack of operational accountability at the retail level. And fare evasion is costing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hundreds of millions.

All of this, ultimately, is on the current mayor — a man who clearly doesn’t care but who also will be leaving office in two years. Cleaning up his mess will fall to his successor. Stringer and Johnson are among those lining up for the job; you can tell by the pandering.

They are intelligent, sophisticated men, seeking a job that requires both qualities in large quantities. Yet a mayoralty also demands courage and character if it is to succeed — which helps explain de Blasio’s failure but which makes the need for a high-quality successor all the more urgent.

Churro-hawking is no big deal, of course — so the significance of Friday’s confrontation lies in what it revealed about the quality of the city’s political leadership.

The message was not reassuring.

Twitter: @RLmac2