SI Advance: Legal Aid: Gravity knife law used as ploy to arrest minorities

By Kyle Lawson
March 7, 2019

A state law classifying gravity knives as dangerous weapons is allegedly being used by law enforcement as a ploy to prosecute minorities, according to a press release Thursday from the Legal Aid Society.

Gravity knives, which are currently banned, are classified as a blade that can be opened with centrifugal force, i.e. a flick of the wrist.

As part of an ongoing effort to amend the law, Legal Aid, the nonprofit group that represents those who can’t afford an attorney, conducted a 2017 study it says proves the instruments are seldom used as a weapon -- often used instead by laborers and artists -- and that prosecution of the crime varies from borough to borough.

Of the 885 gravity knife arrests handled by attorneys with Legal Aid in the first six months of 2018, nearly 90 percent of defendants were of color; 85 percent of them black or Latino, according to the study.

While officers with the 49th and 79th Precincts -- in the Bronx and Brooklyn respectively -- made the most gravity knife arrests, the rate of defendants charged with a felony for the knives was 42 percent on Staten Island, compared to 1 percent in the Bronx, according to Legal Aid.

District Attorney Michael E. McMahon’s office did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.