Every day, a contingent of New Yorkers, moving in shadows, manages to board the subway without paying the fare—hopping turnstiles and slipping through propped-open service doors on their way to school, or work, or home. Who will defend the city from these monsters?
The NYPD already is, it turns out. According to a report from the New York Daily News, arrests in which fare evasion is the most serious charge have increased by 69 percent over the last five years—from 14,681 in 2008 to 24,747 in 2013—and will likely be even higher this year. Of all classes of crime, only all narcotics arrests combined have sent more people to jail since 2008.
According to NYPD spokeswoman Cheryl Crispin, cops will arrest someone for fare evasion rather than write a ticket if the suspect has an open warrant or criminal record, or if they aren't carrying ID. And who bears the brunt of this crackdown? According to the News's numbers, black people are most likely to go to jail for a turnstile-hopping arrest, with 36 percent of cases since 2008 leading to incarceration. Donna Lieberman of the NYCLU explains why, in a city whose police department is so unfriendly to people of color, that might be the case:
Every time you get arrested, you build up a record. And so if police train their sights disproportionately on black people, then black people are also going to be more likely to have a record for these minor offenses. And when you walk into court with a record, you're less likely to be given the benefit of the doubt or a second chance.
Justine Olderman of Bronx Defenders, which the News writes has represented "thousands of people in fare evasion cases," said that when you're arresting people for theft of a vital service that costs $2.50, poverty might also be a factor:
Our clients charged with theft of services are all predominately young, all predominately people of color, from under-resourced communities. The reason (for turnstile jumping) is always the same, poverty. Our clients are simply people who are trying to get home, to school, to work, to see their loved ones but don't have the ability to pay.
The NYPD will tell you that "broken windows"-style targeting of petty crimes like fare evasion, pot possession, squeegee man-ing, and subway dancing helps keep more serious criminals off the street. Even if that's true (and the jury's still decidedly out), it also places real roadblocks in front of people who are already at risk. Say you're a young man from Brownsville, and you're running late for work, but your MetroCard won't swipe, so you hop the turnstile. Because you left your ID at home, the officer waiting on the platform places your under arrest, which loses you your job, and now that you have a criminal record, no one else will hire you. What do you do then?
[Image via AP]