Village Voice: Pocket Knives, New York City and Police Racism

The heaviest consequences fall on economically disadvantaged defendants, attorneys say, those who are least able to fight the charge, but the arrests sometimes cut across class lines. A well-known visual artist, John Copeland was arrested in 2010 for a knife he used to cut canvas in his studio. Nate Appleman, a food-world heavyweight and contestant on The Next Iron Chef a few years back, was arrested on account of the pocketknife he uses to open cardboard boxes. Professional photographer Steven Counts had never been in trouble with the law — not even so much as a speeding ticket — when he was surrounded by five officers in downtown Manhattan last summer. Counts was on his way to lunch when one of them spotted, on the pocket of his jeans, the clip for a knife he uses to construct studio backdrops. Stagehands are so frequently targeted that the major union representing them started publishing legal advice about pocketknives in its monthly newsletter.

The racial breakdown of stops is also striking. Of the thousands of arrests that resulted from stop-and-frisk encounters, 86 percent of the total involved black or Hispanic suspects. And a Voice analysis also shows that white suspects are significantly more likely to be let go, even when they’re caught carrying knives. Only 35 percent of white suspects found with knives — virtually any of which might meet the NYPD’s ecumenical definition — are arrested, while 56 percent of black and Hispanic suspects are ultimately booked.

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