Daily News Opinion Piece Urges Enactment of Common Sense Gravity Knife Reform
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2016

Though New York City police and prosecutors have exploited the state’s broadly-worded gravity knife statute to claim commonly-sold folding knives are weapons, Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice, said Governor Andrew Cuomo can prevent these unjust cases by signing a “common sense” reform bill now on his desk.

As Legal Aid continues urging Governor Cuomo to sign the bill exempting the widely-sold folding knives from the gravity knife statute, Luongo explained the bill’s necessity in a Daily News opinion piece. Luongo underscored the law’s disproportionate impact on black and Latino men using the items as work tools and the absence of any law enforcement action against stores selling the folding knives at issue.

For instance, Luongo noted Union Square is one of the highest-frequency arrest locations for gravity knives. And yet Paragon Sports is authorized to sell folding knives. “The effect is this: NYPD arrests black and brown men who travel through Union Square for possessing work tools, while it permits a retailer, just feet away, to profit from the sale of the very same items,” said Luongo.

Courts outside the city rarely see gravity knife prosecutions, Luongo said, adding, “NYPD’s tortured interpretation of the statute — and its interpretation alone — has turned tools into weapons.”




Daily News
Gov, defy gravity-knife injustice
By Tina Luongo
December 25, 2016

For years, the NYPD and city prosecutors have exploited New York’s broadly worded 1958 gravity knife statute to arrest and prosecute thousands of New Yorkers who possess common folding knives that are designed, marketed and sold as work tools, not weapons. Gov. Cuomo has the opportunity to sign a new law that would prevent these injustices that, unsurprisingly, are experienced disproportionately by black and brown men.

For years, The Legal Aid Society has called on prosecutors and NYPD to remedy such flagrant discriminatory enforcement. This year, the Legislature intervened and passed common-sense reform by overwhelming margins — 117-12 in the Assembly and 61-1 in the Senate). The legislation would exempt common folding knives — sold at major retailers across the city and state — from prosecution as illegal gravity knives under the statute. Yet Mayor de Blasio, NYPD and District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. have aggressively lobbied Gov. Cuomo to veto the legislation.

Under the current law that the Legislature sought to remedy, if a police officer can force a folding knife open with the flick of a wrist — even if it takes the officer multiple tries — the NYPD deems the tool an illegal weapon under the statute. Prosecutors are not even required to prove that the person possessed the knife intending to use it unlawfully.

The abuse of discretion doesn’t end with the NYPD. If the arrested person has any prior criminal conviction, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office prosecutes them for a felony four times more often than other New York City prosecutors combined. Meanwhile, the NYPD has never arrested any of the retailers who possess and sell these knives.

NYPD exploitation of the statute has resulted in the arrest of thousands of New Yorkers. The Village Voice reported approximately 60,000 arrests for alleged gravity knife possession from 2003 until 2013, the height of the NYPD’s unconstitutional stop and frisk policy. Eighty-six percent of those charged with alleged gravity knife possession during that period were black or Hispanic.

Troublingly, enforcement of the gravity knife statute remains as discriminatory as ever, even in the post stop-and-frisk era. In the second half of 2015, the Legal Aid Society found, 84% of those arrested and charged with alleged gravity knife possession were black or Hispanic and 96% were men.

Clearly, NYPD exploits the gravity knife statute to continue to target black and brown men just as unlawfully as ever. Legal Aid’s research also corroborates our clients’ experience of being targeted while commuting. Two of the highest-frequency arrest locations for gravity knives are at major transportation hubs: 14th St. Union Square and 125th St. and Lexington Ave.

The frequency of arrests in Union Square also reveals the height of prosecutorial hypocrisy. In 2010 DA Vance authorized Paragon Sports, located in Union Square, to sell expensive knives that violated NYPD’s interpretation of the gravity knife statute on the unfounded rationale that expensive knives are not used to harm people. Six years later, Paragon not only sells those expensive folding knives, but also inexpensive ones that black and brown New Yorkers are regularly arrested for possessing.

The effect is this: NYPD arrests black and brown men who travel through Union Square for possessing work tools, while it permits a retailer, just feet away, to profit from the sale of the very same items.

Even more troubling, courtrooms throughout New York City are filled with gravity knife cases while counties outside the city rarely, if ever, witness gravity knife prosecutions. NYPD’s tortured interpretation of the statute — and its interpretation alone — has turned tools into weapons.

Finally, Legal Aid’s data shows that, contrary to claims by Mayor de Blasio, NYPD and DA Vance intended to scare the public, less than 5% of clients charged with gravity knife possession as the top charge were also alleged to have used their knives unlawfully.

We urge Gov. Cuomo to intervene, bring an end to this discriminatory law enforcement practice by signing the common sense gravity knife reform bill.