Across New York City, African-Americans and Hispanics are vastly more likely than whites to be targeted by police for quality-of-life offenses, even in neighborhoods with relatively low Black and Hispanic populations, according to an investigation published Tuesday in the New York Daily News.
The Daily News concludes that this racist enforcement of the New York Police Department policy has created “a tale of two cities, one primarily populated by whites, where minor infractions like drinking on a stoop or smoking a joint are rarely punished, and another, primarily populated by blacks and Hispanics, where walking down the street could be cause for interrogation.”
New York City’s so-called “broken windows” theory of policing — cracking down on minor infractions such as loitering or drinking in public with the expectation that it will prevent major crimes from happening — has been a staple of the NYPD ever since the administration of Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s. The approach drew increased scrutiny with the explosion in the use of the controversial stop-and-frisk policy during the administration of Michael Bloomberg. Many observers believe it was this policy that led police to harass Staten Island dad Eric Garner, who was killed in July after police placed him in a chokehold when he refused to submit to handcuffs.
While Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told a City Council hearing Monday that Blacks and Hispanics receive a disproportionate number of summonses because cops are concentrating their efforts on “the most problematic areas of the city,” the Daily News report directly refutes that statement.
By comparing the percentage of summonses received by Blacks and Hispanics in each neighborhood with their percentage of the population there, the Daily News analysis shows that the summonses seem to follow Blacks and Hispanics wherever they go — even to neighborhoods where they are dramatically underrepresented.
The neighborhoods where the disparities are the highest are the Upper West Side North, where Blacks and Hispanics make up just 34 percent of the population but received an estimated 84 percent of the summonses, and Brooklyn Heights-DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), where they made up 28 percent of the population but received 78 percent of the summonses.
Other neighborhoods with big discrepancies between percentage of the population and number of summonses are the Upper West Side South, Upper East Side South Gramercy.
In other words, all neighborhoods with high percentages of wealthy whites, where police undoubtedly see their job as keeping the brown people in check and away from the whites.
The analysis went further and found that Blacks and Hispanics received the vast majority of summonses for such common offenses as disorderly conduct (88 percent), loitering (89 percent), spitting (92 percent) and failure to have a dog license (91 percent). About that last one, the Daily News notes that the city Health Department estimates less than 17 percent of dogs citywide are licensed — meaning a huge percentage of white people also have unlicensed dogs.
The Daily News analysis found that in 32 of the city’s 75 police precincts, there was a spread of 20 percentage points or greater between the percentage of Blacks and Hispanics in the population and the share of summonses they received.
“The only precincts where the share of summonses received by Blacks and Hispanics were close to their representation in the population were ones where they made up more than 90 percent of residents,” the report says.
The Daily News featured the case of Eric Jones, 40, a Black sanitation worker who received a ticket for having an opener container near Columbia University — an area that had a 40-point spread between the Black and Hispanic share of the population and their percentage of summonses, one of the highest spreads in the city.
“I wasn’t actually carrying a cup. It wasn’t even in my hand,” Jones told the Daily News. “They said I was the closest person to it, so it’s yours. There’s lots of white folks in my neighborhood; they’ll be drinking on their stoops in their brownstones. But the tickets are getting written to minorities.”
In a precinct that contains two college campuses — Columbia and City College — Blacks and Hispanics received 87 percent of the open container summonses and 93 percent of the summonses for unlawful possession of marijuana. Apparently students on these campuses don’t drink alcohol from open containers or smoke marijuana.
“The traditional law enforcement excuse is that Black and Latino neighborhoods suffer from disproportionately higher shares of crime, and that’s why broken windows is disproportionately enforced. These numbers reveal that the broken windows strategy targets Blacks and Latinos all throughout the City of New York, even in neighborhoods of relatively low crime,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), who was one of six New York members of Congress to send a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month calling for an investigation into constitutional and civil rights violations stemming from broken windows.