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Cleared of a Crime but Hounded by a Warrant – The New York Times


Here’s a story about a white man wrongfully arrested–just to show that your skin color doesn’t immunize you from ill treatment by the police.  It is also a lesson in why people are wrongfully treated by police: because they are poor.

It’s not just because they are minorities; it is also because they don’t have the money or social status to fight back.  Poor people, as well as disapproved minorities, are targeted by the police.

It’s not because there is more crime among poor people (although the poor must commit crimes just to survive), but because they are easy targets.  They don’t fight back, they don’t complain as much, and most importantly, they have been arrested before.  The system actually creates the crime for which poor people are blamed.

The police, and the system, treat arrests the same as convictions: as prima facie evidence that the targeted individual is guilty.  Although this may be statistically compelling, it is not proof, and more importantly, against the principle that everyone knows: “innocent until proven guilty.”

The system, in fact, treats everyone arrested as if they are already guilty.  They are confined and abused just as if they had already been convicted.  They are forced to pay large amounts of money (large, to them) to obtain their release.  If they are released on bail, frequently there is no further punishment, since the case may be dismissed or never even go to court.

In a nutshell: this man was arrested– wrongfully– for “trespassing” on a city-owned housing project.   He didn’t have the money to bail himself out or even to avoid the areas that the police were targeting for “stop and frisk.”   When he arrived in court, the case was dismissed –no conviction–on condition that he not commit a crime for a year.

He was rearrested, four times, on warrants that would not disappear from the police’s database of warrants.  In one of the four arrests, he spent several days on Riker’s Island before being released, summarily, by a judge.  In another incident, he was taken to the hospital in shackles and later thrown out after being dragged forty feet by the shackles.

Finally, he filed suit, acting as his own lawyer, against the City for not erasing the warrants.  It was not until he filed the suit that the warrant was removed from the database.

Though Bowen v. the City of New York is only one man’s story, the case happens to be moving through the courts as local law enforcement tries to reform the warrant system. The Police Department says there are now more than one million open criminal warrants, some dating back to the 1980’s. This month, the city started an initiative to issue summonses to — rather than arrest — offenders with warrants for quality-of-life crimes like littering, unreasonable noise and public urination. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office has undertaken a similar effort called Begin Again, through which defendants can close their pending warrants simply by showing up to acknowledge them.

via Cleared of a Crime but Hounded by a Warrant – The New York Times

I’m not going to editorialize — much more– about this case because it is so obvious.  This man was repeatedly arrested and spent several days in jail on several occasions for no reason except that someone failed to perform the computer entries needed to erase a warrant that was wrongful in the first place.

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