What’s legal for white New Yorkers is often illegal for black and brown New Yorkers.
Take, for instance, this DNAinfo story about 60-year-old Ernest Stroy and his 24-year-old nephew, Waymon Jones. On Sunday night, the pair were playing what they said was a harmless game of dominoes outside a bodega in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
Then the police showed up.
“Six of them hopped out of the van and the lady said, ‘You guys can’t play dominoes, you’ve got to wrap it up,’” Jones told DNAinfo.
“And we’re all like, we’re all grown men,” he said, “we’re not harming anybody, we’re not doing any drugs. It’s not, like, dice. So they left us alone for a little bit.”
The pair moved their game to a neighboring plaza. Soon after that, the cops — seven officers, it should be noted — came back, surrounded the two men and issued them tickets for loitering and illegal gambling. (A bystander recorded a video of part of the incident, which you can watch above.)
“It’s wasting your time taking a day off of work to go fight it,” Stroy said of the tickets, adding that he’s already “struggling from check to check” as it is.
Now think of SoHo, in Manhattan, on a Friday or Saturday night. Think of the young and rich, mostly white, spilling out of this art opening or that soiree onto the sidewalk for cigarettes, with glasses of wine in their hands. They won’t be ticketed for drinking in public.
Or think of the mostly white revelers at SantaCon or on St. Patrick’s Day, openly swigging beer in the streets and getting in fights, often without reprisal.
Then think of Noach Dear, the Brooklyn judge who in 2012 said he was tired of hearing charges against minorities over open alcohol containers. “ As hard as I try, I cannot recall ever arraigning a white defendant for such a violation,” he wrote.
Dear’s staff then reviewed public drinking tickets, finding that while white people account for 36 percent of Brooklyn’s population, they made up just 4 percent of tickets issued for drinking in public there. Meanwhile, 85 percent of the summonses were issued to blacks and Latinos.
Think of Park Slope, an affluent and predominantly white neighborhood in Brooklyn, where, between 2008 and 2011, police doled out an average of eight tickets a year for riding a bike on a sidewalk. Then think about Bedford-Stuyvesant, a poorer and predominantly black neighborhood a few miles away, where the average number of such tickets is 2,050 per year.
Or think of a city where, although whites make up over 50 percent of the population, they’re just 8 percent of those arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession, while nearly 90 percent of such arrests are of black and Latinos. (And studies show whites and blacks smoke marijuana at the same rates.)
And think of a city where 81 percent of the 7.3 million people hit with tickets for petty infractions between 2001 and 2013 were black or Latino. Or just go down to Manhattan’s crowded summonses court, and see who’s standing in line:
This, of course, is all done in the name of public safety. It’s NYPD Commissioner William Bratton’s “broken windows” theory of policing — the idea that, by aggressively targeting low-level crime in high-crime neighborhoods, police can deter more serious crime.
But in reality, targeting petty crimes in this way inevitably means targeting minorities. As such, broken windows policing creates two cities. And in one of those cities, an uncle and a nephew playing dominoes outside on a cool autumn night are criminals.
“I think they just want us, basically, to stop coming around or stay in the house,” Stroy told DNAinfo after getting his ticket, adding that he’d been playing dominoes outside in the neighborhood “for years.”
And he’s right: That is what broken windows is designed to do. (Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has basically said as much.)
It’s not only in New York. It’s in Ferguson. It’s in Baltimore. Across the country, white Americans enjoy a privilege when it comes to policing that, for minorities, is still far away.