Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, there have been over 7700 protests across America against incidents of police brutality and systemic racism against black people. These protests are categorized as part of the Black Lives Matter movement which has swept America today. This is especially relevant in New York City as people of color are over-represented in the NYC criminal justice system, specifically in stops and frisk cases conducted by the NYPD and the population of Rikers that are held pretrial.
In terms of New York City’s policing, the NYPD has continued to use tactics such as “stop and frisk”, which has disproportionately targeted people of color. According to a report by the NYCLU, in 2019, of the 13,459 stop and frisk cases that were reported in NYC, around 88% of the stops were against Black or Latino people. Targeted policing is not only seen through the stop and frisk program but most recently in the enforcement of New York City COVID-19 regulations. Although fewer arrests are occurring since the start of the pandemic, a study by the Marshall Project suggests that arrests of white people in New York City have decreased far more than the arrests of Black and Hispanic people. According to the report, “In March, the New York City Police Department made about 13,000 arrests, a 30-percent drop from the same month a year before. While most people in the city were confined to their homes, the changes in arrest practices did not affect residents of all races equally. White people experienced the largest decreases in arrests, whereas arrests of Black and Hispanic people dropped at a much slower rate.” These disparities in arrests took place during the same time period when some police departments came under fire for how they enforce social distancing orders. According to the report, in New York City, more than 80 percent of people arrested for violating social distancing orders were Black. In New York City, while affluent neighborhoods emptied out at the start of the pandemic, Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents, who make up more than 70 percent of the city’s frontline workers, stayed behind. As a result, people of color were not only more likely to be exposed to the virus but were also more likely to be arrested for violating social distancing regulations.
However, these disparities in our criminal justice system not only play out in policing, but also in our Judicial system. In a study conducted by the Independent Budget Office of New York City, as of 2017, the average daily jail population of Rikers averaged around 9,790 inmates, of which 78 percent were people awaiting trial. Of those pretrial detainees, 52 percent were Black, 33 percent Hispanic, and 10 percent white. These statistics become even more shocking as New York City’s overall population in 2019 was 43 percent white, 29 percent Latino, and 24 percent Black. According to a study by The Sentencing Project, “Pretrial release often requires money bond, which can be prohibitive to low-income individuals and increases the pressure on them to accept less favorable plea deals.” Whether these statistics are a result of the lack of resources provided toward communities of color or the racial bias that occurs during arraignments are not the issues at hand, for people of color continue to be disproportionately affected by this system.
Ultimately, the social movement that is Black Lives Matter is a movement which is looking to compressively change the culture of the criminal justice system of not only NYC, but America as a whole. It is evident that the disparities throughout our criminal justice system is an issue and needs to be subjected to change as these disparities not only impact individuals of color, but create generational impacts that allow disparities to continue.
Brandon Melendez is a senior at Hunter College, majoring in Urban Studies with a certificate in Public Policy. His Public Policy Capstone focuses on how reforming NYPD policing practices can mitigate the racial disparities present throughout the New York City Criminal Justice system.