Eric Garner, asphyxiated during his arrest on Staten Island, had been repeatedly picked up by the NYPD for the crime of selling loose cigarettes. Washington Examiner:
The crime of selling “loosies” was not considered a serious one in the past. Many corner stores in New York City once sold them quietly upon request. But former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s cartoonish anti-tobacco crusade changed that and everything else. Smoking in public places was banned. Punitive taxes and a legal minimum price of $10.50 were imposed in an effort to push prices ever-upward, so that a brand-name pack of 20 cigarettes now costs as much as $14 in New York City.
As a result, the illicit sale of loose and untaxed cigarettes became more commonplace.
I noted at yesterday’s Repeal Day panel at Cato that according to figures last year, New York’s unusually high cigarette taxes had brought it an unusual distinction: an estimated 60 percent of consumption there is of smuggled or illegal cigarettes, much higher than any other state. Another way to think of it is that New York has moved closer to prohibition than to a legal market in tobacco. [earlier 2003 Cato study]
In his history of Prohibition, Last Call, Daniel Okrent cites (among many other law enforcement misadventures) the fatal shooting of Jacob Hanson, secretary of an Elks lodge in Niagara Falls, New York, in a confrontation with alcohol agents — though Hanson had a clean record and was not carrying alcohol. At the time, many saw Hanson’s death as reflecting poorly on the Prohibition regime generally. For some reason, though, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has drawn fire from some quarters for making a parallel observation about Garner’s death. [BBC; note however that while Garner's frictions with the local NYPD seem to owe much to his repeated cigarette arrests, the proximate event leading to his arrest seems to have been his attempt to break up a fight]
Yale’s Stephen Carter: “On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce.” [Bloomberg View via Ilya Somin]
Even when it’s all caught on video, in daylight, with witnesses. Even when the cop blatantly broke the NYPD’s very clear ban on chokeholds. Even when the victim was heard “gurgl[ing] that he could not breathe” and the cop was heard bantering afterward with colleagues.
The confrontation between officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. had several elements that worked to bolster Wilson’s defense, including evidence that Brown had assaulted Wilson in his car and contradictions in the testimony of eyewitnesses. By contrast, the case for a Staten Island grand jury to return at least some charge in the choking death of Eric Garner at the hands of officer Daniel Pantaleo would seem considerably stronger. (Garner had tried to break up a sidewalk fight before police intervened, then argued with police and was uncompliant when they intervened; in accounts after the death, police said he had frequently tangled with law enforcement because of his habit of hanging out on the sidewalk selling “loosies” — single cigarettes out of their packages, a tax violation.)
Some of yesterday’s Twitter discussion:
(This morning, New York Post columnist Bob McManus does defend it.)
Aware of New York City’s penchant for prosecuting persons found in possession of knives commonly used in construction and design work, sculptor Jonathan W. “therefore chose the Spyderco UK Penknife… a non locking, slip joint folder, which should have been in the clear. But that wasn’t good enough for the NYPD (who arrested him), the DA (who charged him), or even his public defender (who recommended he plead guilty).” [The Truth About Knives] Earlier on NYC’s crazy “gravity-knife” law here and here.
New York law “mandates that the city pay for storing furniture and personal belongings for homeless people.” The city has paid more than $200,000 so far for Andrea Logan’s, part of a program whose costs to the city now exceed $14 million a year. [New York Post]
Horror story in Queens points up flaws of the city’s deed-transfer system, and also of its pro-tenant housing court regime: “After Darrell Beatty failed to appear in August, a judge approved an eviction, but it was stayed last week when Beatty claimed he had health problems.” [New York Post]
My new Cato piece on New York’s crazy “gravity-knife” law, picking up on an excellent Village Voice investigation by Jon Campbell. More: Scott Greenfield.
Lawyers are warning that a bill to restrict consideration of criminal records in business hiring now pending in New York City would be even more burdensome to business than similar bills enacted in other cities and states, applying, for example, to businesses with as few as four employees, a lower threshold than usual. [Crain's] The bill prohibits inquiry about criminal record until after a provisional job offer is made, at which point a reluctant employer must withdraw the offer, painting a large “Sue Me” target on its chest.
To be able to reject an applicant because of a past conviction, employers would have to go through a rigorous process that, if not followed, would result in the presumption that a business owner engaged in unlawful discrimination, [Reed Smith's Mark] Goldstein said….
Additionally, the City Council bill would allow an applicant rejected because of a past crime seven days to respond. The job would have to be held open during that time….
In the bill’s current form, the business would bear the burden of proof in any resulting lawsuit by the job applicant, Mr. Goldstein said.
More: Nick Fishman, Employee Screen on unusually burdensome provisions of San Francisco “ban the box” law (“Employers can’t just sit back anymore and think that these laws are benign. At the least, they are creating an administrative nightmare. At worst, the plaintiff’s attorneys are standing by waiting for your first misstep.”)
Ramsey Orta, whose street video of Eric Garner’s chokehold death at the hands of NYC cops became a worldwide sensation, has only days later been nabbed by that same police force on grounds of an unlawful gun infraction in what the police describe as a known drug location. “To decipher some of the police jargon, every location in New York other than St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a ‘known drug location’ as far as the police are concerned,” writes Scott Greenfield [Simple Justice]
It’s nice to know that in Manhattan’s super-expensive West Village there’s a transplanted farmhouse with a doggy chute opening in the door and a connection to the late Margaret Wise Brown, author of children’s classic Goodnight Moon. It’s less nice to know that New York City preservation law parlays this cute historic footnote into the potential imposition (if development is blocked) of an opportunity cost that the property owner thinks might be as high as $20 million [Scouting New York]
If you last saw it in the small town of Hamlet, N.C., it might have been impounded by the police on low-level charges and then sold for scrap to junkyards in a series of what appear to be irregular and under-monitored transactions. “In police files were two court orders, signed by a state district court judge, but otherwise left mostly blank. Those pre-signed court orders, which judicial experts say are extremely unusual and do not seem appropriate, appear to have been copied and then used to dispose of at least seven vehicles.” [News and Observer last November via Balko]
More from New York City: “TLC Wrongly Accused Hundreds of Being Illegal Cabbies in Past Year.” And when they accuse, they can and do seize your car, which you may have to go to a lot of trouble to get back. [DNAInfo] Related: “City investigators wrongfully accused a black man of being an illegal taxi driver after they spotted him dropping off his wife at work, believing she was a white livery cab passenger, a lawsuit charges.” [DNAInfo via Alkon]