If you think New York City is the only place with absurd knife laws you probably haven’t looked at your state and local knife laws lately. They are as big a mess as the nationwide hodgepodge of gun laws.
Further these laws are aimed at minorities and working people who often use knives in their work. They are often gotcha laws that police can use to trap people in a costly legal battles that can result in legal fees, fines, confiscation of property and imprisonment.
Along with being weapons for self defense knives are working tools for many of us who carry them.
By Jon Campbell
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
New York City has paid out at least $347,500 over the past five years for false arrest and malicious prosecution claims related to NYPD enforcement of New York’s controversial “gravity knife” statute, according to settlement records obtained by the Voice under the state Freedom of Information Law.
The settlement agreements released by the city’s Law Department are only a partial accounting, officials there said, because of limitations on record search capability. But the sixteen cases — which cost New Yorkers an average of more than $21,000 each — offer a peek at the financial costs of the NYPD’s ongoing crackdown, which has drawn the attention of lawmakers seeking to roll back the prohibition, is currently the subject of a constitutional challenge, and has even been criticized by the official body of the state judiciary.
The gravity knife statute makes it a crime to possess any folding knife that can be opened with a flick of the wrist. First passed in the 1950s, the law was designed to ban a particular kind of now-obsolete knife closely related to a switchblade, but has increasingly been used to prosecute the possession of common folding knives. As the Voice has been documenting since 2014, the NYPD’s zealous enforcement of the law has led to the prosecution of an estimated 60,000 New Yorkers over the past ten years, many of them working people who use folding knives as part of their jobs.
Because virtually any modern pocketknife can be made to open with the flick of a wrist, it’s easy for an officer to make an arrest that will stick long enough to bolster his numbers under the department’s unofficial quota system. “There have been so many reports of people who possess ordinary utility knives, often for use in their jobs, and police officers literally just make up a claim that it’s really a gravity knife,” says Joel Berger, a civil rights attorney in Manhattan. The goal is often to “get an extra collar on their record,” Berger says.
Several significant settlements have already been reported, but most of the cases provided by the Law Department have not been described publicly before. They contain allegations of beatings in custody, including one suspect being deliberately thrown around a police vehicle during transport (sometimes referred to as a “nickel ride,” made famous when Freddie Gray died following a similar incident in Baltimore), and of illegal searches of car interiors. In one case, a suspect arrested on a gravity knife charge spent ninety days in jail because of a paperwork mistake; his home state of North Carolina falsely reported that he was under parole supervision and he was held for violating his release conditions, a mistake that could have been avoided if not for a groundless arrest.
Berger, who handled one such gravity knife case — that of Bernard Perez, which we reported on in September — says that while the NYPD is the source of hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement costs every year, the knife payouts probably represented only “the tip of the iceberg.”
“For everyone who sued and got money,” he says, “there are probably many others that just took an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” a common disposition in gravity knife cases, in which charges are dismissed after a probationary period.