Calls Grow for City to Release Demographic Data on Social Distancing Enforcement

May 5, 2020
In The News

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD are facing growing calls to release demographic data showing which New Yorkers are getting hit with fines for breaking social distancing rules.

With cops stepping up enforcement of rules banning all gatherings and requiring face masks, violent run-ins between officers and residents have been caught on video and raised suspicions that minorities are being disproportionately targeted by police.

It is unclear if black and Latino New Yorkers are bearing the brunt of social distancing enforcement because the city has so far released no information on neighborhoods where tickets are given out, or the race of people getting fines. Police gave out 112 summonses for violations this weekend, and those are likely to grow as the weather grows warmer. 

In a letter to de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, a group of elected officials called for data to be published on fines and warnings, broken down by demographic and neighborhood, along with 311 complaint data.

In the East Village on Saturday, Officer Francisco Garcia was seen on videoaggressively taking down and striking a man and kneeling on top of him. He has been placed on desk duty and the mayor and police commissioner called his conduct troubling.

“This incident highlights our concerns that social-distancing enforcement may not be applied equally in all communities,” said the letter, signed by City Council Member Carlina Rivera, Assemblyman Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan), New York Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velázquez, state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

“Social media accounts portray scenes of people congregating in parks across New York City’s more affluent parks and neighborhoods, yet the enforcement actions that come to light are those like the May 2 event on East 9th Street and Avenue D, predominantly a community of color,” they wrote.

The city and state should have been more clear from the start in telling New Yorkers to stay home, Williams said, adding that messages that it was fine to go out for some fresh air, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo's reluctance to call his mandate a shelter-in-place order, created confusion. 

“You can’t give a muddled message like that, and then expect there not to be this kind of confusion,” he said.

“There are too many people not abiding by the rules, and we have to abide by them,” he said. “But what we’ve seen is unequal enforcement. Some communities at most got a warning, and other communities are getting punched in the face and thrown to the ground.”

Rivera (D-Manhattan) said she has noticed more police presence in public housing developments in her district compared to parks that have drawn crowds. She is considering legislation to force police to hand over the enforcement data.

“We don’t know how and why they determine where they go patrol,” Rivera said. “I just don’t want it to become another example of over-policing communities of color.”

De Blasio and Shea said they plan to release data but did not give a timeline.

“Whatever data is kept on enforcement and demographics and locations in terms of neighborhood by neighborhood, we want to get out there,” de Blasio said Monday.

“There's been thousands and tens of thousands of interactions between police officers and civilians over the last weeks that went very well where the NYPD went and made sure that people were practicing social distancing when enforcement was necessary. They exercised enforcement in communities all over the city,” he added.

In another incident, a police officer in East New York was seen apparently striking a man as officers attempted to hold him down. The video does not show the beginning of the encounter.

Officials said there would be a review, but said the incident was not comparable to the one in the East Village.

“What New Yorkers need to do is respect the NYPD as well, and respect the instructions, and certainly never ever fight with an NYPD officer. That is not acceptable,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “I want to remind everyone it's a two-way street. Respect goes both ways."

Shea said, depending on the circumstances, it is not necessarily considered excessive force for an officer to punch someone in the course of a scuffle.

“It should be examined in the totality of the circumstances,” he said.

Officials also acknowledged they do not have a clear rule on how to respond when they encounter a group of two or more people on the street. Gatherings of any size are illegal under the state’s coronavirus emergency order, but people who live together are allowed to be together in public.

“We don't have every perfect rule in place. We're learning by experience,” de Blasio said.