Intrigued to see how the law worked from the other side, former prosecutor Bobby Constantino went on a mission to get himself arrested. Except getting arrested was in and of itself a bit tricky given, as Constantino would find, he wasn’t black or a minority for starters. But then again he was also wearing a suit and tie when he set out on his mischief.
To give us some background, Constantino tells us that he used to work as an assistant district attorney in Boston until he grew disheartened about constantly having to prosecute young black men for petty crimes for which white men never would have been arrested.
Constantino recently wrote for the Atlantic Wire:
“Though I’ve spent years living and working in neighborhoods like Brownsville, as a white professional, the police have never eyed me suspiciously or stopped me for routine questioning. I would have to do something creative to get their attention.”
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And thus with his suit and tie on, Constantino sets about with two cans of red spray paint to deface City Hall, all under the watchful eye of police monitors and the occasional surveilling cop. Still, the white professional couldn’t get arrested.
Hearing that his acts have made the news, he turns up to City Hall the next day, hands in his driver’s license and a letter explaining what he has done and waits to be arrested, but he is instead sent home.
Once again Constantino goes home free, blogs about the incident and returns the next day with the same letter and driver’s license, and of course, his suit and tie.
The former lawyer, wondering why it’s taking him so long to be arrested, says:
“Each time, the guards saw a young professional in a suit, not the suspect they had in mind, and each time they handed me back my license and turned me away. On my fifth day of trying, a reporter from Courthouse News Service tagged along. At first skeptical, he watched in disbelief as the officer took my license, made a phone call, and sent me on my way.”
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One could only wonder if the cops sensed a trap waiting for them. Here was a wise guy, a nutter, but also a nice white professional guy in a suit who oughtn’t be arrested. But arrested he must be.
It isn’t until Constantino finally surrenders himself at Manhattan Criminal court that he is at last finally taken to the city tombs.
It’s what happens next that leaves one flabbergasted.
“Expecting to receive a 3-5 day community service rap for his misdemeanor, the assistant state attorney declines to go along, ensuring that Constantino is forced to now go to trial.”
From there the former lawyer spends the next seven months dealing with visits to courtrooms, listening to state attorneys threatening jail time and the issuing of heavy fines and fees. In the end, Constantino is found guilty of nine criminal charges.
“In the end I was found guilty of nine criminal charges. The prosecutor asked for 15 days of community service as punishment. My attorney requested time served. The judge — in an unusual move that showed how much the case bothered him — went over the prosecutor’s head and ordered three years of probation, a $1000 fine, a $250 surcharge, a $50 surcharge, 30 days of community service, and a special condition allowing police and probation officers to enter and search my residence anytime without a warrant.”
All because the former lawyer defaced a wall on City Hall with the slogan “N.Y.P.D. Get Your Hands Off Me.”
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The article continues:
“At my group probation orientation, the officer handed each of us a packet and explained that we are not allowed to travel, work, or visit outside New York City.
‘Wait, what?’ I blurted out. ‘This is true even for nonviolent misdemeanors?’
‘Yes, for everyone. You have to get permission.'”
By the end of the ordeal, the former lawyer comes to question his understanding of how the law actually works, the way it’s enforced as well as the narrative itself of how the law would seek to keep the bad guys out and exact equal justice for all men.
There are lots and lots of crimes, and white people commit them just as often as black people, but only the black people are profiled, arrested, put in jail, and become statistics of “high-offending groups”, which then causes more profiling. Constantino found all this out from the other side.
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A Slate article states:
“Would a black man have had an easier time getting arrested for the same actions? Probably. But we know that because of the myriad statistics showing that blacks are arrested at a higher rate than whites in New York, not because of Constantino’s anecdotal evidence and presumptions.”