Governor Urged to Sign Gravity Knife Reform Bill to Protect Hard Working New Yorkers
Martin LaFalce, a Staff Attorney in the Criminal Practice’s Manhattan office.

The Legal Aid Society led a chorus of elected officials and advocacy groups on Monday, urging reforms to the state’s gravity knife statute that would treat widely-sold folding knives as tools, not as weapons.

Many New Yorkers employed as construction workers, electricians, handymen, stagehands and other professions involving manual labor buy folding knives and utility knives to help them do their job. Even still, the New York City Police Department arrests thousands of these workers – overwhelmingly black or Latino – claiming they possess illegal gravity knives.

But a pending bill could address the injustice.

Earlier this year, lawmakers in the state Assembly and state Senate voted by wide margins to exempt folding knives from the gravity knife statute. The bill, S6483A/A9042A, now awaits signature from Governor Andrew Cuomo. Enactment could potentially end the arrests of some 5,000 people a year.

At Monday’s press conference on the steps of City Hall, Legal Aid members urged Governor Cuomo to enact the law. Elected officials, including the bill’s sponsors, state Senator Diane Savino and state Assemblymember Dan Quart, also emphasized the need to pass the bill, as did U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and state Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry. Representatives from UAW Local 2325 - Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (AFL-CIO) also attended the rally, as did members of Brooklyn Defender Services.

The Legal Aid Society and Brooklyn Defender Services have been working on the gravity knife issue closely with other local organizations, such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, JustLeadership USA, the Urban Justice Center and the Katal Center.

Anyone could walk into a store in New York City such as AutoZone, Paragon Sports or Ace Hardware and could buy a knife marketed as a work tool, said Martin LaFalce, a Staff Attorney in the Criminal Practice’s Manhattan office. “And then they can be arrested and charged with an illegal gravity knife. That is unacceptable. What’s even more unacceptable is that 86% of our clients who are arrested for so-called gravity knife possession are black and Latino. For us as public defenders, this is discrimination on steroids.”

Hara Robrish, also a Staff Attorney in the Criminal Practice’s Manhattan office said there was “nothing more discriminatory than punishing the innocent workers that purchase these knives at hardware stores while you allow the stores to continue to sell and profit from these knives without any criminal liability.”

Hard-working city residents also spoke of the harm and lost jobs they suffered under the current law.

Andrew Siconolfi spoke of how he lost an event production job. "I like to work hard and I play by the rules. And this is a rule I wish I had known existed, because I would have done everything to try not to violate it. For $3.88 at Walmart, I purchased an item that would completely upend my life in ways I would never imagine,” he said.

Likewise, Levele Pointer said he had to spend 10 days on Rikers Island because police had found him with a folding box knife cutter. Though Pointer’s case was later thrown out, he lost his job in the process. Pointer’s work now includes being a peer educator with New York Harm Reduction Educators. “This is a gateway to Rikers Island. This needs to stop today,” he said.