Many cities have enacted “nuisance laws” that criminalize small misbehaviors that don’t hurt anyone. In New York, it’s against the law to take up more than one subway seat or even put a foot up. It’s illegal to be in most parks after dark, or to drink beer on your stoop. People can get arrested for asking someone else to swipe them into the subway, journalist Samantha Sunne writes in the Washington Post. In Texas, minors can be jailed for missing more than 10 days of school within six months. In Arkansas, a woman was imprisoned after a $1.07 check she wrote for bread bounced.
Criminalizing small acts can have major consequences for nonwhite and low-income people, who are disproportionately arrested and convicted for these infractions. USA Today found that “blacks are more likely than others to be arrested in almost every city for almost every type of crime.” In New York in 2014, 43,000 people were arrested on public transportation; just 3,600 were white, even though whites make up 37 percent of public transit riders. The New York Police Department has denied allegations of racial profiling and defended its “broken windows” practices, arguing that they make the city much safer. The city also has begun to move away from making arrests for minor offenses. Officers in Manhattan no longer will arrest people for minor crimes like riding between subway cars or drinking in public. Instead, they will get a criminal summons. The New York City council passed a measure creating a civil process for some common low-level infractions, like littering and excessive noise. The Washington Post