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COVID-19-related arrests in the city not racially motivated, NYPD says

A mask-wearing NYPD officer on Tuesday in Manhattan.

A mask-wearing NYPD officer on Tuesday in Manhattan. Credit: Charles Eckert

Pushing back at accusations that cops making social distancing arrests targeted minorities, the NYPD on Tuesday said the "COVID-19 related" arrests were in response to complaints of crimes where officers had to take action.

From March 16 and through May 10, officials said, the NYPD made 125 arrests with at least a tangential connection to the coronavirus, mostly in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The NYPD said 66.4% of those arrested were black and 24% Hispanic, a total of just over 90%.

“These are not social distancing arrests. Many were responses to calls for service where there was a clear victim and police took necessary action,” NYPD officials said in the statement. “The crimes are characterized as COVID-19 related to the circumstances of occurrence, remarks made by the arrestee at the time of the alleged crime or afterward, or statements made by a victim."

The arrests were for hate crimes, domestic violence, weapons possession and altercations after someone jumped a line while waiting to enter a supermarket, according to the statement. In addition, officials said, felony warrants were among the underlying offenses and in one case, a bank robber presented a note to a teller saying he had COVID-19.

An NYPD official said the underlying crimes sometimes involved suspects fleeing police and later claiming they had the coronavirus. The department didn’t have a detailed breakdown available Tuesday on the specific offenses involved.

An official with the Legal Aid Society said the NYPD's explanation failed to answer calls from some elected officials and activists for the department to be more transparent about how it polices social distancing. Legal Aid represents defendants who can’t afford to hire an attorney.

“The NYPD definition of ‘COVID-related’ in this data set is meaningless,” Legal Aid official Corey Stoughton said in a statement Tuesday. “Most importantly, it shed no light on the critical question of how the NYPD can explain and begin to address its pattern of racially discriminatory enforcement of social distancing requirements and the startling examples of police misconduct revealed in recent days.”

Stoughton was referring to social media videos showing NYPD officers fighting with suspects in incidents characterized as COVID-related. 

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Additional police data released last week showed that more than 51% of the 374 social distancing summonses issued from March 16 through May 5 went to black men and women, and nearly 30% of those cited were Hispanic.

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