NY Prosecutor Flags Disparities in Protest Charges

A display of important dates in the Black-American historical experience rests on the sidewalk at a protest encampment outside New York City Hall on June 30. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(CN) — For a particularly tense span of roughly two weeks at the height of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, New York City police officers arrested more than a 2,000 protesting racial injustice.

An overview of that data released by New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday suggests that those arrests may have proven the protesters’ point.

“This is a defining moment in the history of our nation, an inflection point,” the attorney general told reporters during a press conference this afternoon.

The racial disparities among in the data analyzed between May 28 and June 7 are stark.

“NYPD arrest data shows that 39 percent of people arrested during the protests were Black and 44 percent were white,” the 57-page report states. “While both Black and white protesters were overrepresented in arrests as compared to citywide demographics, the overall demographics of the people who attended protests on a given day during this time has not yet been determined.”

That seemingly small divide turns striking when broken down further by the gravity of the charges.

“In terms of charging decisions, 16 percent of Black protesters were charged with a felony, eight percent of Latino protesters were charged with a felony, and less than four percent of white protesters and Asian protesters were charged with a felony,” it continues.

Without commenting on the striking racial divide, Attorney General James added that the majority of the most serious charges did not appear to stem from widely reported incidents of looting or violence throughout the city.

“The severity of the charges for those arrested dropped precipitously by June 2, suggesting that the majority of arrests were for violating the curfew and peacefully protesting, as opposed to violence and plundering businesses,” her report states.

Soliciting the public’s help in a long-running investigation, the attorney general’s office received nearly 1,300 submissions from the public and more than 18 hours of testimony from protesters, police unions and other sources.

“It is impossible to deny that many New Yorkers have lost faith in law enforcement,” James said.

Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and New York University professor Barry Friedman assisted James with her probe, which remains ongoing.

Among five recommendations, the office is calling for the state to enhance public participation and oversight of police policies and to redesign public safety by decriminalizing minor offenses. James says the state should also ensure independent accountability through transparency, a goal that includes creating a statewide certification process and boosting the power and independence of the civilian oversight board. Two more recommendations are making the NYPD’s inspector general’s office a fully independent agency and codifying use-of-force standards to include legal consequences for officers who violate it.

“Adopting these reforms would go a long way toward mending the relationship between the police and community and solidifying the appropriate role of police in New York,” the report states.

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