CSS report: Poor communities of color are targeted in fare hike arrests

STEPHON JOHNSON | 10/19/2017, midnight
A new study by the Community Service Society highlights how poor Black New Yorkers are targeted by police in fare ...
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A new study by the Community Service Society highlights how poor Black New Yorkers are targeted by police in fare hike arrests.

Titled “The Crime of Being Short $2.75,” the report analyzes 2016 fare arrest data showing that young Black men between the ages of 16 and 36 represented half of all fare evasion arrests, but represent only 13.1 percent of poor adults. According to the report, the New York Police Department is on pace to make 18,000 fare evasion arrests this year with 90 percent of those arrests being Black and Hispanic New Yorkers.

“More than 1 in 4 New Yorkers say they are often unable to afford subway and bus fares,” read one part of the report. CSS’ study focused on 4,054 arrests in 2016 across 157 different subway stations in Brooklyn where the Legal Aid Society and Brooklyn Defenders Services acted as defense attorneys for the individuals.

“The city’s current approach to fare evasion by New Yorkers who lack $2.75 to cover the subway fare amounts to de facto criminalization of poverty,” said David Jones, president and CEO of Community Service Society, in a statement. “This is not unique to New York City. Across the country cities from Seattle to Minneapolis are beginning to grapple with the fact that public transportation is being policed in a way that has a disproportionately adverse impact on poor communities of color. Instead of punitive policies that harm our most vulnerable citizens, and saddle young Black and Latino men with criminal records, we should work to make public transit more affordable for all, including those living at or below poverty.”

CSS noted that the highest fare evasion arrest rates in Brooklyn occurred near areas of concentrated poverty. Black Brooklynites made up less than one-third of arrests in the borough, but they make up two-thirds of evasion arrests. According to the report, subway stations with the highest rate of fare evasion arrests per 100,000 MetroCard swipes could all be found in predominantly Black neighborhoods around Brownsville and East New York with the Junius Street Station on the 3-train line and Atlantic Avenue, Sutter Avenue and Livonia Avenue stations on the L-train line.

Arrests did not depend on if an area had higher criminal activity than other areas. Junius Street has the highest fare evasion arrest rate while being 20th in criminal complaints. Dekalb Avenue, on the B-train line, is No. 1 in criminal complaints and has the 92nd highest evasion rate.

“This important study highlights how the city’s prosecution of fare evasion as a crime has disproportionately impacted low-income, communities of color in Brooklyn,” said New York City Council Member Rory Lancman in a statement. “Not only is this overzealous enforcement of fare evasion unjust, but it unnecessarily runs thousands of people through the criminal justice system every year and puts immigrants at risk of deportation. My bill requiring the NYPD to report all fare evasion arrests and summons data quarterly will allow us to expand on the work done in this study, and show how this unfair enforcement impacts Black and Brown New Yorkers across the city.”

“Instead of spending city funds to arrest poor people for fare evasion, especially poor people of color, we should redirect these city resources to policing more serious crimes and consider ways in which we can make the public transit system more affordable and accessible for all New Yorkers,” added report co-author and CSS Senior Economist Harold Stolper in a statement.

The report points out that policymakers in states such as California and cities such as Seattle have started to decriminalize fare evasion and subsidize fares and New York should follow suit. Current proposed legislation would reduce fare evasion from a criminal offense to a civil violation, and Manhattan and Brooklyn district attorneys have stated they intend to scale back criminal prosecutions of fare evasion.