"This isn't a race issue." That's the most common response I've gotten in the past three weeks when talking about police brutality. And while that is partially true —this isn't just a racial issue—blacks and Latinos do face a greater threat from the police force here in New York City. That the most recent incidents of police brutality circulating in the media—Eric Garner, Stephanie Maldonado, Jahmil-El Cuffee, Rosan Miller, Denise Stewart—involve blacks and Latinos is no coincidence.
With help from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York Daily News compiled data confirming the unfair and disproportionate policing of communities of color: as a result of "broken windows" policing—when officers crack down on smaller offenses with the hopes of preventing bigger ones—roughly "81 percent of the 7.3 million people hit with minor violations between 2001 and 2013 were black and Hispanic," the Daily News reports.
The number of summonses issued each year has soared since "broken windows" was implemented [by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton] in the early 1990s — from 160,000 in 1993 to a peak of 648,638 in 2005, a review of a number of reports shows. Although that number has fallen in recent years — to 431,217 last year and down an additional 17% so far this year — writing out violations still remains the most frequent activity of the New York City Police Department, far surpassing felony and misdemeanor arrests combined.
Of 7.3 million summons handed out from 2001 t0 2013, the most common violation was for the consumption of alcohol on the street (1.6m), followed by disorderly conduct (1m), public urination (334,000), and bicycling on the sidewalk (296,000). [To view the entire list of offenses, click here]
Yet the targeting of blacks and Latinos for minor violations has not shown a direct correlation for the decrease in crime over the years. In fact, in the Bronx, an area where the "broken windows" strategy is aggressively enforced, the murder rate is on the rise from 2013—up 28.5 percent from last year. If you buy into the theory of "broken windows" policing, this fact alone disproves its hypothesis.
Of the data gathered by the Daily News, the most startling statistic was this:
Last year, 20% of the 458,000 summons issued citywide were tossed because the tickets either had defects or were deemed factually insufficient.
That means 1 in 5 people who were given a summons last year were unfairly profiled by the NYPD. That's 91,600 New Yorkers being harassed by an officer for no good reason. And despite Commissioner Bratton's promise to retrain the force and implement new crime-fighting and mediation tactics under Mayor De Blasio's tenure, he maintains that race did not figure into the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. "I personally don't think that race was a factor in the incident involved in this tragic death," Bratton told the New York Observer.
There doesn't seem to be much hope for reform from those within the legal field and city government, either. After all, there's big business in employing racist practices, however poorly disguised.
"Every time a case is called, you can almost hear the cash register ringing," said Susan Tipograph, a lawyer who works in the city.
An unnamed veteran employee of the summons court in Manhattan told the Daily News: "You'll see a disproportionately large percentage of young male blacks and young male Hispanics. It seems that only a certain kind of people are being targeted with this."
[Image via Getty]