177 Livingston Street 7th Floor Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 254-0700 info@bds.org

News

URGENT! CALL GOVERNOR CUOMO AND URGE HIM TO SIGN THE GRAVITY KNIFE REFORM BILL

Please consider calling Governor Cuomo’s office at (518) 474-8390 TODAY to politely urge him to sign the gravity knife reform bill (A9042A).

It only takes a minute and it makes a real difference. You’ll simply say your name, tell them you’re a New Yorker, and urge the Governor to sign the gravity knife reform bill to end the racist criminalization of working New Yorkers for carrying their tools. 

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have been arrested and prosecuted under an outdated and vague weapons statute for being in possession of ordinary folding knives and box cutters they purchased at Home Depot or their local hardware stores and used peacefully in an honest job. 86% of those arrested in NYC for this offense are people of color, despite the tool in question being common to all people in the trades and many other professions. The bill would simply modernize the definition of so-called “gravity knives” to prevent common work tools, used peacefully, from being deemed illegal weapons. It passed with broad support in both houses of the Legislature and now we need Governor Cuomo to sign it.

Together with U.S. Rep. Jeffries, Assembly Member Dan Quart, Senator Diane Savino, the Legal Aid Society, VOCAL-NY and other groups, we held a rally three weeks ago and we know the Governor is listening. Add your voice to the fight for justice!

The following are just some of the wrenching stories of BDS clients whose arrests would have been prevented under this legislation:

Mr. B was an 18 year-old freshman math major with a merit scholarship at Pace University when he was pulled over for having tinted windows. Peering inside the car, the officer found a folding knife that Mr. B, who worked at an ice skating rink, used to cut laces. Mr. B, who had no criminal history and zero arrests to date, was arrested and detained. His attorney was able to verify his work-related use of the knife and persuaded the District Attorney’s office to offer an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD) with immediate sealing to protect his scholarship. Nonetheless, untold numbers of online for-profit databases may maintain records indicating that he was arrested for “Criminal Possession Weapon-4th: Firearm/Weapon,” and Mr. B has since struggled to find employment, suspecting that employers are consulting these databases.

Mr. W, a green card holder, was working for a large moving and storage company in Brooklyn when he was stopped and frisked. He had not consented to the search, but the officer said he matched the description of a robbery suspect. She found a box cutter in his pocket and arrested him for CPW4. He was wearing a mover’s uniform, including his company sweatshirt, and was able to provide contact information for his employer. The complaining witness who called in the robbery told police officers that Mr. W was not the one who did it. However, his gravity knife case was open for seven months because the prosecutor insisted on a plea deal that included a weapons charge that would trigger deportation. Fortunately, due to our advocacy, the case was ultimately resolved with an immigration-safe plea deal, but he had already lost his job after missing work for court dates. Altogether, he had an open criminal record indicating an arrest for CPW4 for more than a year, and again, a potentially permanent record accessible through for-profit databases.

T, a 17 year-old adolescent had just gotten a job at a hardware store. He was in his work clothes when he was stopped on the subway because a knife clip was showing in his back pocket. He had used the knife to open boxes at the hardware store, which also sold the knives. He was arrested and incarcerated because he was unable to pay bail. While at Rikers, he was assaulted and missed his Regents Exams before his family was able to pay a bail bondsman to bail him out. With T at liberty and able to fight his case, prosecutors offered him an ACD and he accepted.

Mr. R, a man, had a fifteen year-old conviction for drug sales and had successfully completed parole. He had trouble getting jobs because of his criminal record, but was eventually able to get and maintain a job for a construction company. After police officers spotted a knife clip in his pocket, he was arrested and charged with possession of a gravity knife. Because of his earlier conviction and court history, the prosecutors were able to convince the judge to set a high bail and Mr. R was incarcerated at Rikers until he eventually plead guilty to the weapons charge just to get out of jail. By that point, he had lost his job.

Mr. S, a 33 year-old maintenance worker at Brightside Academy, an early childhood education center, was arrested and charged with gravity knife possession and low-level marijuana possession. Prosecutors insisted on Misdemeanors for both charges and Mr. S lost his job after the school received a letter informing them that he was charged with “possessing a weapon/firearm.” After repeated requests to the Kings County District Attorney’s office, we were able to test the knife and found it to be a locking folding knife and not a gravity knife. Prosecutors then agreed to dismiss the case, and the client successfully sued for malicious prosecution and unlawful seizure, but his employer would not rehire him.

J, a 22 year-old, was employed in his father’s auto repair shop when he was stopped for a traffic violation. Police officers conducted an illegal search and found a knife under his seat. J told the officers that he used the knife to open boxes at work, but he was arrested and charged with possession of a gravity knife, anyway. One of our attorneys met with the arresting officer and the prosecutor in the case to view the knife. After a few failed attempts, the officer was able to flick open the knife, but only with a significant exertion of force. J had never even tried, much less succeeded, in opening the knife this way. (This is very common in gravity knife cases.) Yet prosecutors refused to outright dismiss the case, and J was sentenced to three full days of community service.

Mr. J, a 25 year-old construction worker, was stopped and arrested when the police officer found an ordinary folding knife in his pocket. He was detained overnight and held at Rikers Island for two days before his mother could pay his bail. After missing additional days of work for multiple court dates as he fought to prove his innocence, he lost his construction job. His case is ongoing, and the enactment of this law would help Mr. J and thousands of other New Yorkers today.

All of the BDS clients cited above are Black and/or Latino.

The bill was officially transmitted to the Governor yesterday. That gave him 10 (now 9) days to either sign or veto the bill. If he does neither, the bill becomes law. We have a real opportunity to prevent thousands of senseless arrests every year. We can spare thousands of innocent people a night in a filthy holding cell and hundreds of people the brutality of Rikers. We can prevent deportations and criminal records and the loss of children to the foster care system. Many of our clients have lost their jobs because of these arrests. Today, we have a chance to end this injustice.

… but the Governor could preserve the unjust status quo with the stroke of a pen.

So please call his office today and make your voice count.

Thank you.