How a subtle change in New York state law could stop #BlackLivesMatter in its tracks

The NYPD's Push to Make 'Resisting Arrest' a Felony Would Criminalize Blackness, Protesting

How a subtle change in New York state law could stop #BlackLivesMatter in its tracks


This afternoon, Buzzfeed's Nicolas Medina Mora, reporting on NYPD Commissioner Bratton's testimony before a New York State Senate hearing on "public security", noticed something unsettling - the Commissioner endorsed making 'resisting arrest' a felony under New York State law.

Asked whether the penalty for resisting arrest should be increased from a misdemeanor to a felony, Bratton said he supported the idea.

“We need to get around this idea that you can resist arrest,” Bratton reiterated to reporters after the hearing. “One of the ways to do that is to give penalties for that.”

Currently, resisting arrests carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison. If the charge were to become a felony, people could face anything from four years of probation to life in prison.

The way Mora, and subsequently Vox's Dara Lind, framed it was that Bratton was simply responding to a handful of concerned State Senators. Their reporting rightfully pointed out how pernicious this shift in law would be but both missed the true first mover at work here: NYPD's thuggish union bosses. From last week:


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A police-union boss wants suspects who persistently resist arrest to be hit with felony charges instead of just another slap on the wrist.

Setting aside the now all-too-routine fact that police policy is largely directed by the unelected NYPD brass and not civil government, such a policy would have deeply troubling implications:

First off, making resisting arrest a felony would severely and disportionately affect communities of color. As WYNC reported last December, resisting arrest - like all facets of our justice system - is not applied evenly among class and race:



And considering dozens of states disenfranchise convicted felons, the NYPD's plan would, by accident or design, invariably prevent thousands of people of color from voting in other states throughout the union.


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Secondly, making 'resisting arrest' a felony would severely dissuade people, in the aggregate, from protesting. Because protesters are routinely arrested for resisting arrest - both in concert with other petty offenses or as a sole offense - this would radically alter the cost-benefit of direct action. Indeed, as NPR reported last week, getting arrested solely for resisting arrest is an all too common occurrence police do to "save face":


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Carter, the former officer, agrees that police sometimes feel they have to arrest someone to "save face." But he says some unjustified arrests also come out of officer fatigue — a breakdown of what he calls "resiliency" toward challenging members of the public, especially in protest situations.

A paradox best explain here:


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Throw in the several other stigmas attached to felony arrests - from jobs, to credit, to starting a small business - the pain of a felony conviction would, by definition, prevent thousands of people from even coming close to a demonstration.

And since making 'resisting arrest' a felony would disproportionately affect both people of color and activists, one can only imagine - and this is no doubt the real objective - the effect it would have on activists of color. Months after the murder of Mike Brown ignited a nationwide movement and weeks after the non-indictment of Eric Garner's killer fanned its flames ten-fold, the NYPD, still scrambling to lay the groundwork in the inevitable event another such injustice occurs, is trying to radically alter the equation of civil disobedience in their favor. Those with the means to do so shouldn't let them.

(h/t @marymad for pointing out the disenfranchisement element)

Follow @adamjohnsonnyc.

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