80 per cent of New Yorkers stopped by police for social distancing violations are people of colour

Black residents make up nearly 90 per cent of arrests in Brooklyn

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 08 May 2020 22:52 BST
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New York City mayor Bill de Blasio vows to release NYPD social distancing enforcement data

More than 80 per cent of New Yorkers ticketed by police for running afoul of the city’s social distancing measures were people of colour.

Of the 374 summonses issued by police between the middle of March and 5 May, nearly 200 were handed to black residents, while 111 were issued to Hispanic residents, according to data from the New York Police Department.

“When I saw those numbers I found them to be an indicator that something’s wrong and we need to fix it,” New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said during a press conference on Friday. “We will fix it.”

The data follows widely circulated and condemned photos and videos of a police officer thrashing a bystander of colour, as police handed out masks to mostly white sunbathers in packed parks and public areas in Manhattan as warm weather lured people outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic.

In footage that has now gone viral, Officer Francis X Garcia flashed his gun to a crowd, then knocked down a bystander and punched him while he was on the ground.

The officer was later stripped of his badge and his gun, according to police.

Criminal justice advocates have warned that enforcing social distancing guidelines would fuel a racially driven double standard, inflaming a public health crisis that has already disproportionately impacted people of colour.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane WIlliams, who has criticised the city’s enforcement of social distancing mandates, said that the “virus has disproportionately claimed thousands of black and brown bodies, and now, in response, it is black and brown bodies facing the kind of over-policing never seen in other communities”.

Analysts have argued that thousands of American workers aren’t able to work from home and effectively “socially distance” themselves from their communities. Less than one in five black workers and roughly one in six Hispanic workers are able to work from home, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Thousands of police officers have patrolled public spaces, from parks to subways, hoping to clear people from off the street and enforce statewide orders from Governor Andrew Cuomo to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Within six weeks, police officers made at least 120 arrests and issued nearly 500 summonses for social distancing violations.

Black residents made up 68 per cent of arrests, while Hispanic residents made up nearly a quarter, according to NYPD deputy police commissioner Richard Esposito.

In Brooklyn, there were 206 summonses issued, 121 of which were issued at a dozen social gatherings.

Within that timeframe, white residents accounted for only 7 per cent of arrests for social distancing violations.

Two-thirds of the summonses distributed to white residents were in neighbourhoods that include large ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in parts of Brooklyn, according to police data.

Jewish leaders fumed at the mayor’s warnings targeting “the Jewish community” following a large Hasidic funeral that drew large crowds outdoors.

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The racial disparities are far more stark among arrests for the same violations in Brooklyn — the borough’s district attorney revealed that 40 people arrested for violating social distancing between mid-March and 4 May, 35 were black, four were Hispanic and one was white.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez declined to prosecute all of them.

“We do not accept disparity,” Mayor De Blasio said. “When we see disparity we’re going to address it.

In a statement, DA Gonzalez said: “The disturbing images of arrests for social distancing throughout our city serve to erode the process that has been made in enhancing police accountability and strengthening trust in our criminal justice system...My office is reviewing allegations of excessive force during recent Brooklyn arrests and will investigate these incidents to determine if disciplinary recommendations or criminal charges are warranted.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who also is a former NYPD captain, said that police need to get “out of the business of social distancing enforcement” and said the pandemic has created a “moment of re-culturing” for law enforcement.

“People are not used to interacting with the police this way and it is causing major negative impacts, and a lot of it has to do with the inconsistent ways policing is being done,” he said.

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