Crown Heights

Hamilton says turnstile jumping shouldn’t be crime

July 27, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Sen. Jesse Hamilton (at podium) and Assemblymember Tremaine Wright (right) speak at a press conference outside the Franklin Ave subway station, where they were joined by transit and criminal justice reform advocates. Photo courtesy of Hamilton’s office
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An astonishing 92 percent of New York City residents arrested for turnstile jumping in subways are people of color, according to an eye-opening report released by state Sen. Jesse Hamilton.

The statistic is part of the reasoning behind a call by Hamilton (D-Crown Heights-Park Slope, Sunset Park) and another Brooklyn lawmaker, Assemblymember Tremaine Wright, to decriminalize turnstile jumping.

Hamilton and Wright (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant) are introducing legislation to have turnstile jumping, which is entering the subway system without paying, become a civil violation rather than a crime.

“We need to radically rethink our approach to policing and crimes of poverty. Our laws need to approach our fellow New Yorkers with more compassion and humanity, especially in at-risk communities,” Hamilton said in a statement.

Hamilton and Wright held a press conference at the Franklin Avenue subway station in Crown Heights on Tuesday. They were joined by public defenders and criminal justice reform advocates who are supporting their legislation.

Hamilton recently issued a report titled “Turning Lives Around: The Need to Decriminalize Turnstile Jumping,” detailing the shocking breakdown of arrests, misdemeanor convictions and jail sentences resulting from turnstile jumping incidents that have taken place since 2013.

Treating subway fare beaters like hardened criminals harms communities of color, police-community relations and the fabric of New York City life, according to Hamilton.

“Shifting from criminal to civil action means nearly 30,000 fewer New Yorkers will face the nightmare of an arrest, potential for a criminal record, loss of housing, or even deportation. We must lift that daunting burden placed on our fellow New Yorkers over $2.75,” Hamilton stated.

Many people jump a turnstile because they cannot afford the $2.75 subway fare, according to advocates of decriminalization.

“We have an affordability crisis in our city that is playing out in our mass transit system where thousands of mainly poor people of color are stopped and arrested for the nonviolent offense of fare evasion,” said David R. Jones, president and CEO of the Community Service Society and board member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

One answer, Jones said, would be to “address the fundamental problem of transit affordability for 800,000 low-income New Yorkers by making access to public transportation easier for the poor among us.”

Deborah Wright, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, said her members see the problem close up.

“The members of our union, attorneys at the Legal Aid Society, day in and day out, serve clients who are dragged into court for low level arrests and broken windows policing. It is clear to us that as subway fares continue to rise beyond the means of average New Yorkers, turnstile jumping should not be treated as a criminal offense,” she said.

“Nobody, especially no young person, should be handcuffed, thrown in a police car, fingerprinted and held in a cell because they don’t have $2.75 to get where they need to go,” said Laurie Parise, executive director of Youth Represent.

The effort to decriminalize turnstile jumping is part of a broader plan to end the practice of broken windows policing, Hamilton said.

Hamilton hosted an End Broken Windows Policing town hall in Sunset Park in February with Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. He also held a Broken Windows Roundtable with state Sen. Marisol Alcantara (D-Chelsea) in May. The roundtable included City Councilmembers Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal, Ritchie Torres and Carlos Menchaca.


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