New Data Reveals New York's Blacks and Latinos Disproportionately Nabbed for Minor Offenses

But City officials defend "Broken Windows" as good policing.

More than 81 percent of New Yorkers issued summonses over "broken windows" infractions during a ten-year period have been Black and Latino, an analysis of city records conducted by the New York Daily News reveals.

In a first-ever breakdown of released summons statistics, the Daily News found that writing summonses is the most frequent activity conducted by the New York Police Department, surpassing felony and misdemeanor arrests combined. Since the "broken windows" policy—which means zero tolerance for small infractions—was implemented during early the 1990s, the number of summonses has increased exponentially. In 1993, 160,000 summonses were issues; in 2005, that number climbed to a peak of 648,638.

(While the number of summonses has fallen in recent years — 431,217 in 2013 and a 17% decrease so far this year—, it's likely due to the high number of "stop-and-frisk" stops that took place during that same time period.)

Most of these summonses were likely to be issued in Black or Latino communities, according the Daily News.

The most common offenses were consumption of alcohol (1.6 million), disorderly conduct (1 million), public urination (334,000), bicycling on the sidewalk (296,000) and operation of a motor vehicle in violation of the safety rules (213,000). Motor vehicle violations and unlawful possession of alcohol for a minor were not strongly connected to race, but violations for spitting, failure to have a dog license, public consumption of alcohol , disorderly conduct and loitering were.

Here are a few more details provided by the Daily News:

In some precincts, the rate of summonses was more than 1 in 10 residents last year, such as the 25th Precinct (East Harlem North), which is 90% black and Hispanic, where there were 18 summonses per 100 residents; the 40th Precinct (Mott Haven, Bronx), which is 98% black and Hispanic (16 per 100 residents); and the 41st Precinct (Hunts Point, Bronx), which is 98% black and Hispanic, (16 per 100 residents).

“My neighborhood is like it’s under martial law. We got all these rookie officers on each corner. These officers, they just run around and ask you for any excuse to ask you for your ID and write you a summons,” said Angel Garcia, 34, of East Harlem, waiting in line at summons court in lower Manhattan last month.

Current NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton instituted "broken windows" in 1990 when he was head of transit police. The aim of the controversial policy was to target quality-of-life offenses to deter more serious crimes. But criticism of the policy has been reignited after the July 17 death of Eric Garner, a black man who died after a cop put him in a prohibited chokehold when he protested being arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner. And critics also say it disproportionately affects blacks and Latinos. Whites walking with open containers are far less likely to be stopped by police. 

During a roundtable on police tactics at City Hall Thursday with the Rev. Al Sharpton and Bratton, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended "broken windows," arguing that it has played a significant role in lowering the city's crime rate. "Broken Windows as a strategy, along with CompStat, is one of the reasons why over the last 20 years we became the safest big city in America," the mayor said, according to Capital New York.

(Compstat is a local crime-mapping strategy that was implemented during Bratton's previous stint as police commissioner, under Mayor Giuliani.)

Rev. Al Sharpton insisted, however, that "broken windows" needs to be reformed so that it would not target minorities disproportionately for non-violent violations. “I want it refined in a way that we do not have a disproportionate impact on people like [selling] loosies [single cigarettes], rather than things that are really criminal,” he said, according to the New York Post.

Sharpton also balked at Bratton's suggestions that improved training could prevent tragedies such as Garner's.

“You don’t need training if a man is saying 11 times ‘I can’t breathe!’ and you still holding him in a grip lock," Sharpton said. "You don’t need training, you need to have people that understand the law is what they protect and uphold. They are not above the law.”

"Broken windows" is also at the center of an on-going class-action lawsuit that was filed in March of 2013. Plaintiffs claim that cops issued them bogus tickets so that they could make precinct quotas. The NYPD has consistently denied having a quota system, despite the testimony of two police officers who swore under oath during the city's Stop-and-Frisk trial that there was, in fact, a quota system in place.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is Senior Editor at AlterNet. He covers civil liberties.

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