The State's Petty Law Enforcement, Messing Up the Lives of the Least Well Off


Great first person narrative from Bill Bradley at Next City dramatizing a point I wrote about last month, on "Petty Law Enforcement vs. The Poor," as a guy is taken to jail for jogging in a park at night when it turns out a bill he paid to the state years ago wasn't processed properly.


There were 11, myself included, from the 72nd precinct and a scattering of other perps from precincts across Brooklyn [in the system that morning]. Only three of us were white. Everyone was in for various petty and pointless crimes: Unpaid speeding tickets, hopping a turnstile, outstanding summons. New York's misdemeanor courts are essentially debtor's courts. Keep a dude out of work for the day so he'll pay his tickets…..

StockMonkeys.com / Foter / CC BY

All of the people in my holding cell awaiting a hearing were "little fish." One, a 28-year-old who grew up in various Brooklyn housing projects (Red Hook, Gowanus), "got out of the hustle" and landed a job as a courier for a corporate building on Madison Avenue. "I don't have to think about cops no more," he told me. "I got my 9-to-5, my steady check and my girl at home." He was worried that his morning in jail, after he'd been arrested for trespassing in his girlfriend's friend's apartment building (which he had been invited to, but the cops were having none of that), might jeopardize his job. Another man was concerned that if he didn't see the judge before the court adjourned for lunch at 1pm he, too, might lose his job.

"The court system reveals its true class hatred by the fact that it's scheduled to fuck mostly with working class people," [Legal Aid Society lawyer Danny] Ashworth said. "The people who are trying to scrape together some lawful existence."

Ashworth said the majority of the offenders he sees are low-income residents and young men of color….

Ashworth did not mince words with his assessment of the police department's bias. "There's so many ways to get snagged," he said. "And what that means is, the officers can pick and choose who is going to pay. They can look at a guy's car. They can size up who's inside the car. They make these implicit class and race judgments. And who winds up getting tagged most of the time? Police want a certain class and group of people walking around in a constant state of fear. Always looking over their shoulder. They want, basically, a state of terror instilled in the mindset of certain classes and races and groups of people."…..

Young black and Latino men account for only 4.7 percent of the city's population. In 2011, they accounted for 41.6 percent of all stop-and-frisks….