Minorities Disproportionately Impacted by COVID-19 Policing: NYC Study

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Over the past few weeks, photos and videos purportedly showing bias by New York cops in enforcing social distancing rules have been circulating publicly.  Alleged incidents of harassment  have been cited by advocacy groups.

An investigation by the Legal Aid Society  has now confirmed some of the allegations.

In an analysis of complaints over a two-month period between  mid-March and early May, the investigators found “unequal enforcement” of social distancingrules against minorities in New York City. 

Of the total 32,293 social-distancing complaints to the 311 city help line analyzed by the group, the majority of the calls are for neighborhoods that are predominantly white, like Astoria, Queens (1,197 calls), and Williamsburg, Brooklyn (886). 

However, the non-minority neighborhoods only account for 21.4 percent of retaliation cases, like summonses (84) and arrests (7); minority neighborhoods account for 78.6 percent of total summonses (315) and arrests (20), according to the Legal Aid Society data. 

In other words, while COVID-19 related 311 calls are being made across the city and across the board racially, the retaliation is being experienced predominantly only by African American and Latinx New Yorkers. 

Moreover, “18 of the 20 precincts with the highest rates of known COVID-19 related arrests or summonses per 10,000 people occurred in majority Black or Latino precincts,” the Legal Aid Society reported. 

These findings conform to anecdotal account by the media.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published statistics from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office that found in the borough, “the police arrested 40 people for social-distancing violations from March 17 through May 4…Of those arrested, 35 people were black, four were Hispanic and one was white.”

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office also acknowledged that over a third of the arrests were made in Brownsville, a predominantly African-American neighborhood. The Legal Aid Society notes that Brownsville is the third precinct with the highest levels of COVID-19 related arrests and summonses. 

The New York Times notes that no arrests were made in the predominantly white Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope.

“There are too many people not abiding by the rules, and we have to abide by them,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during one of his Daily Coronavirus Briefings, as quoted by Politico.

“But what we’ve seen is unequal enforcement. Some communities at most got a warning, and other communities are getting punched in the face and thrown to the ground.”

Mayor Bill De Blasio took to Twitter earlier this month to respond to criticism, saying, “The disparity in the numbers does NOT reflect our values. We HAVE TO do better and we WILL.”

The Legal Aid Society acknowledges that the publicly available data on these incidents, arrests, and summons are limited.

Howeverm it added, “Black and Latino New Yorkers are experiencing more aggressive enforcement of social distancing rules despite the roughly equal distribution of 311 social distancing complaints.”

The New York Times cited a Politico report, where many elected officials have publicly called for the NYPD to publish demographic data on COVID-19 related incidents. 

Moreover, at the end of their report, The Legal Aid Society calls upon Mayor Bill De Blasio to “encourage greater transparency and accountability in policing by directing the NYPD to publish demographic and precinct-level information on every summons and arrest related to COVID-19 on a weekly basis, along with a more transparent definition of what constitutes a COVID-19 related arrest.”

The full report can be accessed here.

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