New York’s Summons Court Displays ‘Racialized Nature of System’


Visit New York City summons court in lower Manhattan, “and you are instantly struck by the racialized nature of this system,” writes Brent Stapes in the city’s Times. “New York is a multiracial city, but judging from the faces in cramped courtrooms, one would think that whites scarcely ever commit the petty offenses that lead to the more than 500,000 summonses issued in the city every year.”

Judge Noach Dear of Brooklyn Criminal Court made this point in a bluntly worded decision last week, noting that every defendant who has ever come before him charged with drinking alcohol in public had been black or Latino. More than a fifth of the summonses issued last year were thrown out either for defects on the ticket or for lack of legal sufficiency. But that left about 400,000 New Yorkers facing a date in summons court, which handles offenses like public drinking, riding bicycles on the sidewalk or disorderly conduct. Staples calls the court “a place where low-level offenses can lead to permanent criminal histories and lifelong encumbrances.”

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