A tad over two years ago, the Village Voice published a story about the abuse of like laws in New York City. The abuse of knife laws was by the NYPD, and the NYPD deliberately misapplied an anti-gravity knife law to arrest people on weapons charges.
According to the vast majority of police departments and district attorneys in New York State — not to mention knife manufacturers, labor unions, and almost everyone else who knows a thing about knives — what Neal was carrying was a perfectly legal folding knife. When gravity knives were banned under New York State law in the 1950s, the legislature actually had a very specific style of weapon in mind — a foot-long terror that bears no resemblance to a knife like the one Neal had. True gravity knives, for all intents and purposes, have been extinct for the better part of a century; today they’re relegated mostly to the antiques section on eBay.
Nonetheless, under the department’s unique interpretation of Penal Code 265.01, almost every pocketknife on the market today can be considered a gravity knife. It’s as if authorities in New York City were using an antiquated law against flintlock muskets to prosecute BB-gun owners.
The NYPD uses what they call the “wrist flick” method to determine if a knife is a gravity knife. This is the NYPD wrist flick:
Flicking the knife wildly, multiple times, finally getting it to open; this method will get every lock back knife made classified as an illegal gravity knife.
And they know it.
The NYPD has been using the gravity knife ban to boost their arrest numbers by targeting people with ordinary pocket knives, generally picking them out by the telltale pocket clip.
The NYPD was deliberately abusing the law to arrest innocent people to make themselves look better on paper rather than stopping real crimes… I’m shocked.
Here is where this story takes a turn for the bizarre.
The NYPD bit off more than it can chew this time. As it turns out, the overwhelming majority of people that were getting arrested for gravity knife violations for ordinary pocket knives were law abiding, working class people.
But the modern knives sold in countless stores bear little resemblance to the knives that were the original subjects of the ban. Many people, including carpenters, construction workers and stagehands, have no idea that their knives can be made to open with a flick of a wrist — a skill many New York police officers have developed.
It’s not just laborers and construction workers that were feeling the pinch, but people who do the manual work in NYC’s theater and entertainment industry.
Others had noticed too. Daniel Gilloon, a representative with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a trade union, says arrests of its members have become so routine that the leadership had to get involved. Now, several times a month, IATSE’s president sits down to send form letters to local D.A.s, on the behalf of this or that member, explaining what the knife is for. In his industry, Gilloon adds, pocketknives aren’t just common but, in fact, mandatory equipment. Stagehands who show up without a knife can actually be disciplined for coming to work unprepared. “It happens all the time,” he says of the arrests
The people targeted by the NYPD for gravity knife violations were usually minorities – 86% of the time, arrestees were black.
By targeting working class minorities for undue arrest, the NYPD kicked the liberal hornets nest. Liberal groups and organisations that started pushing for an end to the abuse of NY’s knife laws by the NYPD and making NYC safe for pocketknife EDC include:
The Village Voice (who broke the story)
The New York Times editors
The NYCLU (NY Civil Liberties Union – same link as above)
Brooklyn Defender Services (the Brooklyn public defender)
Just about any time the police start abusing their power, the Libertarians show up. Yes some are goofy, but the CATO Institute is a powerful DC think tank, and they have wandered into the fray.
The slightly right of center Wall Street Journal has come out against NYC’s gravity knife law abuse.
It’s no secret in the gun community that the Venn Diagram of gun people and knife people is a perfect circle. We feel an attack on knife rights as keenly as we do an attack on gun rights, because they generally come from the same source. I doubt that there is anybody out there with a CCW permit that didn’t start by carrying a pocket knife. Knives are the gateway drug for guns.
So without a doubt, the NRA had to chime in on this.
I am glad that they did. I’ve always wished that the NRA would use its considerable power as a lobbying organization to fight for knife rights. Yes, the Knife Rights Foundation exists, but it is rather new and doesn’t have the gravitas that the NRA does.
Left, Right, and Center have come out against the NYPD’s abuse of gravity knife laws and have demanded some sort of legislative change to correct this situation.
So who is standing in the way. At the top, Mayor Bill de Blasio. Let me lay down a little bit of truth:
When the NY Times, NAACP, ACLU, WSJ, and NRA all come together to hold hands on something and agree that you are being tyrannical asshole, you know you screwed up.
It is hard to be so wrong about something that that the the NY Times, NAACP, ACLU, WSJ, and NRA are simultaneously right in calling you out on it, but de Blasio managed to be that wrong.
Under de Blasio, it is totally legal for me to take a dump in a doorway and wash my ass in a fountain, but my Spyderco Delica will get me thrown in jail.
This guy is wrong on everything.
Former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who took to the NY Daily News with this histrionic OpEd.
I dispute the argument of the gravity-knife-rights advocates that it is largely tradespeople and other legitimate knife users who carry these blades and who are being arrested by overzealous police officers. Knives of this type, which can be opened very quickly, are self evidently designed to be weapons — and most of the people who carry them apparently do so for that general purpose.
There are many alternative cutting instruments for tradespeople, including the widely used utility knife with a half-inch blade and the standard folding knife that requires that requires manual blade manipulation and some pressure to open.
Why would anyone need a rapidly deployable four-inch blade? Among the historical reasons for self-opening knives include hand-to-hand military combat and quick-action parachute disengagement. Do the members of the state legislature have good reasons to carry such knives? Do the readers of this column?
Oh look… the head of the organization that got caught red handed abusing a law using to unjustifiably arrest tradesmen is telling them what tools they should be using. Not to mention that the claim that a folding knife is a traditional weapon for military hand-to-hand combat. I guess William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes wasted their time and should have been handing out pocket knifes to the SAS. Beyond that, I doubt that most people who carry a pocket knife do so with malice aforethought. I sure don’t. Which is why, as a reader of his column, I can answer his question:
I have countless reasons to carry a one handed folder. Opening every sort of industrial grade plastic packaging that every little item comes in now days. Fingernails. Cutting up fast food into bite size pieces for the toddler so he doesn’t choke. Emergencies. Lastly, because f**k you , that’s why.
How about New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. His OpEd states:
We provided a memorandum to the Legislature proposing amendments to the law in fairness to those who carry gravity knives for bona fide trade or business reasons. That memorandum sets forth reasonable ways to address the legitimate concerns of tradespeople without compromising public safety.
Except, if the city of NYC wasn’t busy busting tradesmen for their pocket knives why would they be paying out multiple settlements for wrongful arrest, NBC wouldn’t be doing stories on TV about arrested electricians, and judges wouldn’t be tossing gravity knife convictions.
So the worst mayor NYC has ever had, his top cop, and the guy that lies in court on their behalf are trying to stand up to the most diverse group of political interests ever that has come together on a single issue.
The state legislature has pushed forward with a reform to NY’s gravity knife laws to legalize regular pocket knives. De Blasio protested it because statists got to state and tyrants got to tyrant. Unfortunately it now falls on the desk of “I don’t know s**t bout guns, but I’m going to ban them during an abuse of the emergency act” Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Asking a guy who abuses the law to ban guns to pass a bill that stops the NYPD from abusing the law that bans knives seems like a long shot.
Remember people, when you elect a tyrant, there is no end to their tyranny. They will control whatever they can, not because it is good or bad, but because they desire the control. Nothing is safe. You want to control the guns and you get people who arrest handymen for their tools.
All I can say is pray for the good people of NYC. Maybe a few will come away from this with their eyes a little more open.