In a huge blow to the knife community and civil rights in general, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have reformed an antiquated knife law that has resulted in thousands of capricious arrests.
We’ve been following this story closely ever since a Village Voice investigation found that as many as 60,000 people were arrested for illegal gravity knives between 2003 and 2013, with more than 80 percent being black or Hispanic.
The current gravity knife laws are poorly written and open to interpretation from individual officers. People who buy knives legally at stores in the New York area have been arrested for carrying a supposedly illegal knife. With some effort, New York police officers can argue nearly any folder is a gravity knife.
Knife Rights, the organization dedicated to knife advocacy, has pushed for a reform of the knife laws. The gravity knife law reform bill was overwhelmingly passed by the New York legislature and supported by groups from all sides of the political spectrum, including the NAACP, the New York Times, the NRA, and nearly every member of the state legislature.
But Gov. Cuomo decided to side with pretty much the only three opposed to the bill: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr.
In his veto message, Cuomo said the current law is inconsistent and “absurd” but that the vetoed bill would put a burden on law enforcement to determine the design attributes of each knife. Unfortunately, law enforcement can already use their judgment to determine whether a knife is illegal—only the consequences of that judgment is the arrest of law-abiding citizens.
Cuomo has failed the public with his veto of the reform.
While the veto is a blow to the reform efforts, the bill is not completely dead in the water.
“Next year’s session of the New York Legislature is almost upon us and we’ll be back again working to fix the state’s Gravity Knife law to prevent these arrests and prosecutions,” said Knife Rights in a statement. “This bill passed with such large majorities in both houses of the legislature that an override of a veto is theoretically possible.”
Along with Knife Rights, other organizations have vowed to continue fighting the unjust knife laws.
“With this veto, Governor Cuomo ignores the calls from defender organizations, civil rights associations, trade unions and many others to fully reform one of New York State’s most discriminatory laws,” the Legal Aid Society said in a statement. “While we are disappointed with the outcome, The Legal Aid Society will continue to explore all options—including litigation—that will finally address New York’s ambiguous knife statute that has long marginalized communities of colors and working class families.”
We’ll keep you posted with any future updates.