Legal Aid Caseload Analysis: 88% of Clients Arrested, Prosecuted for Gravity Knife Possession Are New Yorkers of Color

The Legal Aid Society today released a report on analyzed caseload data for gravity knife arrests and prosecutions between January 1, 2018 and June 28, 2018. The analysis reveals that the New York City Police Department and local district attorneys continue to overwhelmingly target New Yorkers of color for gravity knife possession.

These knives – commonly regarded as work tools and sold at the majority of retailers across the country – are used by construction laborers, electricians, stagehands, and other workers throughout New York City.

“NYPD and local prosecutors use the gravity knife statute as a trap to make arrest numbers and to force our clients through the system. Folding knives are treated as tools at stores such as Ace Hardware and AutoZone; but they are treated as weapons once they are found in our clients’ Black and Brown hands. It is time for Governor Cuomo to end this trap, and to prevent thousands of arbitrary arrests,” said Martin LaFalce, Staff Attorney with the Manhattan Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society.

“The NYPD and city prosecutors continue to exploit the State’s broken gravity knife statute to target New Yorkers of color who use this tool simply for work purposes. It’s shameful, and the disparate treatment must stop,” said Julie Ciccolini, Analyst at The Legal Aid Society and author of the report. “This report demonstrates a real need for Albany to enact reform immediately, as law enforcement shows no sign of changing their ways any time soon.”

KEY FINDINGS

  • There were 885 gravity knife arrests arraigned by Legal Aid in the first 6 months of 2018
  • 88% of people arrested for gravity knife possession are people of color; 85% are Black or Latino
  • 91% of those arrested for gravity knife possession were charged with a misdemeanor, 9% with a felony
  • The 49th and 79th Precincts made the most gravity knife arrests
  • Fewer than 1% of gravity knife cases in the Bronx are charged as felonies, as compared to 42% in Staten Island
  • The Legal Aid Society represents approximately five gravity knife cases a day, or about 1,800 such cases each year

In 2017 after claims from the NYPD and local prosecutors that gravity knives are uniquely dangerous weapons, The Legal Aid Society issued an analysis of 1,800 violent felony cases where weapons were recovered. Those cases show that gravity knives were alleged to have been used in the commission of violent crime in less than one percent of cases. Canes, crutches, glass bottles, baseball bats, and other household items were alleged to have been used in the commission of violent crime at the same rate as, or more frequently than, gravity knives.

New York’s current gravity knife statute has long garnered criticism for being antiquated, overly broad, and exploited by law enforcement to arrest and prosecute unsuspecting workers. In 2016 and 2017, the New York State Legislature overwhelmingly passed legislation to overhaul the law; but Governor Andrew Cuomo issued vetoes in both years.