Daily News: Racial Bias Seen in N.Y. State Law on Gravity Knives
TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2017

The Daily News reported on arrest data provided by The Legal Aid Society that highlights the discriminatory enforcement and prosecution of New Yorkers arrested for possession of a folding knife.

NY Daily News
Racial Bias Seen in N.Y. State Law on Gravity Knives
By Stephen Rex Brown
June 12, 2017

A state law on what constitutes illegal folding knives targets blacks and Hispanics with razor-sharp precision — though the “weapons” are rarely used in violent crimes, new statistics show.

An analysis of arrests for possession of gravity knives by the Legal Aid Society comes as legislation to reform the law faces a likely vote in Albany in the next two weeks before arriving on Gov. Cuomo’s desk.

Between July and December 2015, a whopping 84% of Legal Aid’s clients — or 775 out of 928 people — prosecuted for misdemeanor or felony gravity-knife possession were black or Hispanic. Nearly all of them were men.

Additionally, fewer than 5% of those cases — 44 out of 928 — included a charge of intent to unlawfully use the knife against another person, calling into question just how much of a threat the blades really are.

Prosecutors say that any knife that can be opened with a flick of the wrist constitutes a dangerous, illegal folding knife.

In practice, the law results in New Yorkers who work in construction and other blue-collar jobs getting arrested for carrying an indispensable tool for their jobs, Hara Robrish, a staff attorney at Legal Aid, said.

“We think this is the most outrageous practice we’ve encountered as public defenders. These knives are being sold all over the city,” Robrish said.

Legal Aid also found more than 100 hardware stores in Manhattan alone selling folding knives that cops could deem illegal.

Nevertheless, an array of law enforcement groups have opposed efforts to reform the current law, including Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., who is among the most vocal critics.

“Given that one-third of the homicides committed in Manhattan last year were stabbings and slashings, the idea that we should have more knives on our streets and subways — particularly knives which can be flicked open in milliseconds — is mystifying,” Vance spokeswoman Joan Vollero said.

In a statement, the NYPD told The News it “opposes the decriminalization of gravity knives and will continue to actively enforce the law regarding those who illegally possess this weapon.

“Allowing individuals to carry gravity knives will create a dangerous environment for both the police and New Yorkers alike.

The new bill, which eliminates the “wrist flick test,” passed the Assembly in May, 136 to 1.

The state Senate is expected to soon vote on a version of the bill sponsored by state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island).

Gov. Cuomo vetoed legislation covering gravity knives last year on the grounds it would have created more confusion for law enforcement if signed into law.

This article originally appeared in the NY Daily News.