Monday, December 13, 2010

Injustice Grows in NYC

Those accused of misdemeanors in NYC spend 15 days in jail, even if they are innocent, because they often cannot not afford bail. Meanwhile, arrest and summons quotas are angering police officers, and a union head for cab drivers calls for racial profiling against Black and Hispanic riders.

Bail and Jail

The ugly reality of NYC's criminal justice system is that defendants accused of misdemeanors spend an average of more than 15 days in jail despite having been convicted of no crime at all. Moreover, many of those accused will plead guilty in order to end their ordeal in jail despite being innocent.

Prosecutors are able to create tremendous leverage for themselves against defendants through the bail system. The accusations of marijuana possession, shoplifting, jumping turnstiles, and other misdemeanors are turned into automatic jail sentences by the bail system. In nearly 20,000 cases in 2008, defendants suffered time in jail when bail was set at $1,000 or less, but the defendant could not afford to post bail. Eighty-seven percent of those given bail of $1,000 or less failed to post bail, and the average time in jail for such a defendant was nearly 16 days. The sad reality of crime and punishment in NYC is that 15 to 16 days in jail in the built-in sentence for the simple accusation of a misdemeanor for a person with little means. The pressure of 15 to 16 days in jail, even for a completely innocent defendant, gives prosecutors the ability to demand a guilty plea in exchange for no jail time. The power and leverage is entirely in the hands of the prosecutors, and some of them appear to be abusing that power.

Why plead guilty? By pleading guilty, often the defendant's sentence will include no jail time. Even if innocent, pleading guilty gives the defendant 15 to 16 days of liberty that fighting the case would not have provided. It is impossible to know how many defendants plead guilty for this reason alone, but we can guess that the number is significant, because we know that the quotas imposed by the NYPD on its police force cause officers to arrest innocent people.

NYPD Quotas Meet Resistance from Police Themselves

In a sign that the quota system within the NYPD is completely out of control, police officers are rebelling against the system and speaking to reporters about their frustration.

In the 79th Precinct in Brooklyn, officers are openly attacking the quota system. They are planning a day-long summons boycott to make their feelings known.

How did it come to this? Officers despise crime and criminals. Officers want criminals punished. Yet, the NYPD has asked our city's officers to punish non-criminals to such a great extent that the officers are fighting back.

We have addressed many times the horrors of the race-based system of stop-and-frisk activity brought to our city by Mayor Bloomberg. The immoral and ugly practice of stopping Black and Hispanic New Yorkers, harassing them, humiliating them, and abusing them in the name of crime reduction continues despite so many voices in opposition.

Beyond stop-and-frisk, the quota system attacks all races and both genders. It undermines the integrity of our law enforcement officials by forcing them to fabricate criminal activity and lie in summons documents. If we are trying to eliminate "bad apples" in the NYPD, the quota system takes good apples and asks them to behave badly.

We applaud the officers of the 79th Precinct in Brooklyn for attempting to regain their moral authority and oppose the abuse of the people of Brooklyn by the NYPD. We only wish that Mayor Bloomberg's arrogance were mitigated to an extent that would allow him to hear the voices of the good apples in the NYPD.

Racial Profiling By Taxi Drivers

Last week, Fernando Mateo, President of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, reacted to an attack on a livery cab driver by an apparently Hispanic attacker by stating that taxi drivers should use race as a guide for whom they agree to accept as passengers.

Driving a taxi is a dangerous job, and no one should have anything but respect for the challenges represented by that way of life.

But, for a leader of a union to call for racial profiling against Black and Hispanic passengers is as backward as anything that we have heard in recent years. It is already very difficult for a Black or Hispanic would-be passenger to get a taxi in NYC if there are other potential passengers nearby. Taxi drivers have a well-known record of by-passing Black and Hispanic would-be passengers for other passengers. They don't need any encouragement to leave Black and Hispanic people waiting by the side of the road.

One of the hidden costs of being Black or Hispanic in NYC is the additional time it takes to get a taxi.

A union leader should be aware that criminal behavior is not race-based, and he should not encourage his union members to abuse Black and Hispanic New Yorkers because of his own ignorance about crime. Let us hope that Fernando Mateo is replaced by a more suitable leader in short order.

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