A coalition of reform advocates on Thursday called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation that would decriminalize possession of gravity knives—a crime for which hundreds of Bronx residents are arrested each year.
During the first six months of 2018, 220 gravity knife prosecutions were defended by the Legal Aid Society at Bronx Criminal Court arraignments, according to data compiled by the organization. Citywide, police made about 3,500 gravity knife-related arrests last year, with a vast majority of those arrested Black or Latinx, Legal Aid’s data shows.
Such prosecutions would end under the bill introduced by Assemblyman Dan Quart and passed earlier this year by the state legislature—legislation Gov. Cuomo has yet to sign into law.
Under current law, possession of a gravity knife is a class A misdemeanor in New York, punishable by up to a year in prison.
“Today, the Governor has a chance to end the arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of thousands of working class New Yorkers and New Yorkers of color,” Quart said before a rally held outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office Thursday. “For the many individuals arrested for owning nothing more than a simple work tool, he is the only person that stands between freedom and fairness, and a prison sentence. Enough is enough, Mr. Governor.”
Under current law, police and prosecutors consider a gravity knife to be any knife in which a foldable blade locks into the handle, and can be opened with the flick of the user’s wrist—a test ruled unconstitutionally vague by a Manhattan Federal Court judge in March.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark on Thursday said in a written statement that while her prosecutors “realize that gravity knives can present a danger,” her office knows they “are also used for many legitimate purposes in crafts and trades.”
“I believe in charging when a person is accused of possessing a gravity knife with intent to use it unlawfully against another,” Clark said.
Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society, said the NYPD and city prosecutors have “exploited” the gravity knife statute, which became law in 1958, to “arrest and prosecute thousands of New Yorkers – the overwhelming majority from communities of color – who possess common folding knives that are designed, marketed and sold as work tools, not weapons.”
Cuomo also has the option of vetoing the bill.