NYPD: Blacks account for nearly half of all NYC arrests six years.
As the novel coronavirus tightened its deadly grip on New York City in the spring, police went on a social distancing crackdown.
Instead of the move sending a message about the importance of preventing the spread of the contagion, it served to inflame racial tensions due to the demographics of the arrestees.
Under pressure from angry politicians and community members, the New York Police Department (NYPD) released data that activists say bolstered accusations of minorities being targeted once again by an uneven-handed law enforcement program.
Of the 125 “COVID-19 related” arrests between March 16 and May 10, 68% were Black, 24% were Latino and just under 7% were white, according to the NYPD Data. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea disputed the notion that his officers were engaged in racist policing, saying those accusations “could not be anything further from the truth.”
While the sampling of the social distancing arrests is small, critics calling for equality in the way the NYPD goes about enforcing laws say it’s indicative of numbers that have refused to budge despite decades of police reforms and talk of more revisions. And activists say it points to an issue that communities across the country are grappling with in the wake of George Floyd’s death — uneven policing that disproportionately impacts people of color.
Not only did New York City become the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, it became a flashpoint of protest in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing even as Mayor Bill de Blasio and other leaders touted New York in recent years as a national model for how a diverse and liberal city can make police reform a top priority.
In the six years since New York City ended its controversial stop-and-frisk program — a police practice intended to drive down crime but was deemed by a federal judge to be unconstitutional “indirect racial profiling” — the number of arrests has fallen by nearly half. Yet, Blacks still comprise about 50% of those taken into custody annually, according to records from America’s largest municipal police force.
While some critics of stop and frisk hoped its eradication would be the beginning of the end of racial disparities in law enforcement, an ABC News examination of arrests reported to the NYC OpenData website shows that apparently hasn’t come to fruition.
Between Jan. 1, 2014, when stop and frisk effectively ended, and Dec. 31, 2019, Blacks have comprised 48% of the nearly 1.8 million arrests made by the NYPD, while Hispanics comprised 34% of the arrests and whites accounted for 12%, according to the data. The statistics in the five-year period show that the most arrests, 281,258, were made for dangerous drugs, while 208,849 were for misdemeanor assault and another 90,097 were for felony assault.
“There are other just as nefarious, just as racially-biased practices that have filled the void. Unless you’re really going to start at the roots of the problem, you’re going to end up in the same place,” said Ann Mathews, managing director of the criminal defense practice for The Bronx Defenders, a city public defenders office. “We may be seeing lower arrest numbers, but the way those arrests are happening, who’s being arrested, how they are being arrested, how the police are targeting for arrests, that’s really unchanged. There has not been a sea change in the way the NYPD approaches policing.”
At the height of stop-and-frisk in New York City in 2011, police made 412,859 arrests. Blacks accounted for 202,284 of those suspects arrested, or 49%, while 139,363 Hispanics were arrested, or 34%, and the 50,925 white suspects accounted for 12% of the arrests. The most arrests in that year, 103,835, were for dangerous drugs, followed by 36,112 for misdemeanor assault.
Since 2011, the number of arrests in New York City has fallen annually from 396,280 in 2012 to 214,617 in 2019. But the racial breakdown on arrestees remains consistent, the data shows.