We’ve all seen the stories in the news and social media of people of color being abused, arrested, or even shot dead for flying, golfing, driving, siting by the pool, shopping, cutting grass, walking or drinking coffee “while black.” Most chilling are those dire encounters initiated on the thinnest of suspicions by police that escalate or turn deadly.
The New York Police Department began anti-bias training this summer for all members of the department in order to address the biases that roil, sometimes unconsciously, their interactions with the public. In doing so the NYPD joins major corporations such as Starbucks and Delta Airlines in attempting to address the unseen, but not unfelt, implicit bias that provides the foundation for racism. That’s good news for everyone. The mayor and NYPD deserve credit for their willingness to have this conversation.
The NYPD is not alone in harboring implicit biases. Most of us do, meaning that we make unconscious, often subtle associations about groups of people that can sometimes lead us to develop stereotypes about those groups. But the difference between you and me and the NYPD is that implicit biases on the police force can lead to disproportionately large arrests of black and brown people for offenses that are committed by all groups.
And arrests – even if they don’t lead to a criminal conviction, but particularly when they do – have consequences. A case in point is marijuana arrests. Statistics about how many more black and brown people are arrested for simple marijuana possession are incredibly troubling. Anti-bias training alone won’t stop this trend, a fact known to the mayor. He has endorsed curbing these arrests overall. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has gone one step further, announcing that he will stop prosecuting marijuana possession and smoking arrests sometime this summer. He has also given the Police Department until then to make a case for charging limited categories of people.
Training alone will not be enough to rid the NYPD of bias. It can’t be enough. The problem goes too deep and the wounds it has inflicted over the years are too many and too serious for training – by itself – to make the pain go away. The NYPD also needs real policy changes – not only changes imposed from without, like those DA Vance is pushing – but also from within.
Among other things, it must more freely share data – particularly data the law requires it to share. Case in point: the NYPD must comply with Local Law 47 of 2018, which took effect in January. City Council Member Rory Lancman sponsored this important piece of legislation. He was justifiably troubled by fare evasion enforcement statistics provided by public defender agencies and analyzed by my organization that highlighted massive racial disparities. Our experts found that across Brooklyn’s 157 subway stations, 66 percent of those arrested for fare evasion in 2016 were black and 18 percent were Latino. The new law simply requires the quarterly public disclosure of basic data about fare evasion arrests broken down by subway station, age, gender and racial demographics, so that trends like these can be monitored citywide.
But to date, the NYPD has simply not complied with the law, period. This is shameful, particularly in light of what we already know for sure: on average, a staggering one of every four NYPD arrests in recent years was for fare evasion according to existing NYPD statistics. These arrests are on an upward trajectory. Fare evasion arrests – the second most frequent reason people were taken into custody by the NYPD – almost doubled from 2008 to 2015, going from 14,681 in 2008 to 29,189 only seven years later.
What we don’t know is how many of those arrested or summonsed citywide were people of color. We need to know this. The data the NYPD is holding back would offer more transparency, a necessary first step the law was designed to show.
The NYPD must stop the foot-dragging and disclose to the public fare evasion arrest data pursuant to the law.
Anti-bias training, which is essential for new recruits and old hands alike in order to properly enforce the law in our great and diverse city, is truly important and I support it. But the NYPD must also comply with laws that apply to it, starting right here, right now.
David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years, and a member of the MTA Board. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.