Assemblywoman aims to ban little-known NY statute that allows for criminalization based on someone's looks
Critics of a little-known statute in New York that allows police to arrest someone for little more than the way they are dressed say it's a tool to discriminate against one of the state's most vulnerable communities.
Ceyenne Doroshow is transgender and a former Rockland County resident who now lives in New York City. The author, activist and public speaker says the little-known loitering law is to blame for her being handcuffed while walking down the street and not doing anything criminal.
"It wasn't like I had a gun...I had a grocery bag," she says. "It's stop-and-frisk all over again."
Penal Code 240.37 essentially allows an officer to arrest anyone walking or chatting with strangers in a public space - if they "think" they look like a prostitute.
The statute is usually referred to as the "walking while trans ban" since the overwhelming majority of arrests involve transgender women who are singled out in police reports for wearing tight tops and short dresses.
The Turn To Tara team analyzed police data going back a decade and discovered 3,756 New Yorkers were arrested under the law since 2010 - a majority of those arrests happened in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The suburb outside the city with the largest numbers is Suffolk County, with a smaller number of arrests playing out in Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties.
Crunching the numbers even closer, News 12 discovered that more than 90% of the arrests in 2018 involved transgender women of color.
There is a bill up for debate in Albany right now that would banish the statute to our history books.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin from Scarsdale is the lead sponsor.
"It's complete discrimination, complete harassment, and the law needs to go," she says.
Paulin says the decades-old law is the only one in New York that allows for the criminalization of someone's looks.
"We've just gone out of our way to get rid of so much discrimination in the criminal justice system and here we still have discrimination against women, against women of color," she says.
She says that often, the fallout can be disastrous.
Even though the violation is a misdemeanor, it can never be sealed, putting trans women at risk of deportation, eviction and even violence after getting arrested.
"Imagine being housed with 200 to 300 men and you have breasts. You've now become Thanksgiving dinner. Even worse, beat up or killed - that's the stuff where we are damaged, where there is no therapy. There's no system designed to repair what the system has broken in us," says Doroshow.
News 12 reached out to the Police Benevolent Association of New York State. It said it has not taken a position on the possible repeal of the law because the issue has not come up before its legislative committee.
But due to the controversy surrounding the statute, the number of incidents over the years has already fallen dramatically from 1,034 arrests in 2010 to just 57 in 2019.