Civil Liberties

Carrying Condoms is Evidence of a Crime, Says NYPD


Maddening account from Molly Crabapple in Vice magazine about vice law enforcement in New York, New York. Details:

The woman asked Officer Hill why he was stopping her. 

She wore jean shorts and a tight red shirt and had stood outdoors for half an hour. She'd had a conversation with a passing man. When Officer Hill searched her bag, he found a condom and $1.25.

He arrested her for "loitering for the purpose of prostitution." On the supporting deposition, he filled in the blanks for what she was wearing and how many condoms she had.

When I read over the deposition in the PROS Network's Public Health Crisis (PDF), a study of how the NYPD arrests folks for carrying condoms, I thought of all the tight shirts I'd worn while idling outside on delicious spring days. I thought, She sounds like me. She sounds like my friends.

The NYPD will arrest you for carrying condoms, but that depends entirely on who you are. If you're a middle-class white girl like me, you're probably safe. But say you're a sex worker or a queer kid kicked out of your home. Say you're a  trans woman out for dinner with your boyfriend. Maybe you've been arrested as a sex worker before. Maybe some quota-filling cop thinks you look like a whore…..

And yes, arrest is always a big deal, even if you don't end up convicted:

Arrest is always violent. The NYPD may or may not break your ribs, but the process of arrest in America is still a man tying your hands behind your back at gunpoint and locking you in a cage. Holding cells are shit-encrusted boxes, often too crowded to sit down. Police can leave you there for three days; long enough to lose your job. If this seems obvious, I say it because the polite middle classes trivialize arrest. They talk about "keeping people off the streets." They don't realize that the constant threat of arrest is traumatic, unless it happens to them or their kids.

There are two types of prostitution arrests. For "prostitution," the officer has to witness you making an offer, but "loitering for the purposes of engaging in a prostitution offense" requires only circumstantial evidence….

Read the whole thing, and also read Reason's great Melissa Gira Grant feature "The War on Sex Workers" from our February issue.