NYC Social Distancing Arrests Have Been Disproportionately Black So Far

Arrests related to social distancing violations in New York City have overwhelmingly involved Black residents, according to initial data, raising concerns from community members and lawmakers that the police response to the COVID-19 pandemic is not unlike the city’s racist enforcement of stop-and-frisk.

From March 17 to May 4, of the 40 people arrested in Brooklyn for violating social distancing rules, 35 were Black, four were Hispanic, and only one was white, according to data released Thursday by the Brooklyn district attorney. Officials in the city’s other boroughs have not yet released similar data.

On Friday, data released by the New York Police Department showed similar racial disparities. From March 16 to May 5, police issued 374 summonses for social distancing violations; 52% were to Black residents and 30% were to Hispanic residents.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) called the racial disparity “unacceptable” and vowed to address it.

“I’m responsible, the police commissioner is responsible,” he said Friday in an interview on WNYC. “That sometimes takes retraining, that sometimes takes more work from the supervisors at a precinct level.”

The police’s response to enforcing social distancing rules has drawn comparisons to the city’s widely condemned stop-and-frisk practice, which disproportionately targeted Black and Latinx residents, and in 2013 was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge.

Multiple videos on social media have shown police officers using excessive force when arresting Black and Hispanic New Yorkers for social distancing-related infractions.

New York City police officers wrestle a man to the ground while making an arrest in the Brooklyn borough of New York on April 29.

But de Blasio suggested it was a limited problem when compared to overall interactions between residents and police, saying Friday “we’re talking about a few very specific instances” and that there are “relatively few” troubling videos.

“We’re going to work on this, and we have ways of addressing this and fixing this, but I wanted to keep it in that broader context,” he said.

Officials have faced criticism for more lax enforcement of social distancing rules in predominantly white parts of the city, and for moving slowly on actions that make it easier for residents to social distance outside. During recent warm weekends, photos of crowded parks have circulated on social media. (At least one observer noted that the angles from which the photos were taken may have been misleading.)  

After weeks of demands from residents and local lawmakers, the city has gradually started to make some streets pedestrian-only, as traffic has plummeted because of the pandemic.

On Friday, de Blasio also announced measures to reduce overcrowding at two city parks, with restricted entry to the Hudson River Park in Manhattan and increased police presence at Domino Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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