The NYPD disproportionately punishes minority and immigrant-owned businesses for alcohol infractions, particularly bodegas and liquor stores, an investigation by the Daily News and ProPublica finds. Police have been issuing nuisance abatement actions — civil lawsuits intended to stop persistent illegal activities — to mostly mom-and-pop businesses in minority neighborhoods, with nine out of ten actions happening in the places where more minorities live. The nuisance abatement actions originally went into place in the '70s to clean up Times Square's sex industry, but according to the report, the actions now leave minority business owners feeling "entrapped" and "strong-armed" by the police into paying steep fines and agreeing to stipulations like warrantless searches for minor infractions.
Nearly 60 percent of the actions involve alcohol violations, including accusations of selling to underage buyers who work for the police. In one case, Oasis Bar and Restaurant owner Sewnarin Jaipersaue, a Guyanese immigrant, says his bartender was arrested on her first day at work. NYPD says it's a way to stop violence among drunken patrons of bars. But a closer look at the nuisance abatement actions did not support the claim, the report finds:
However, most of the cases citing alcohol violations reviewed by The News and ProPublica during the 18-month period do not mention violence or complaints of an unruly atmosphere.
In the 23rd Precinct in East Harlem, for instance — a largely Hispanic area — only one of the 32 cases citing alcohol violations mentions fights.
The cases are almost entirely against bodegas and liquor stores. Many of the workers at these places told a similar tale — that somebody who looked of age came in when the store was busy, often hiding what they were buying, quickly tossing money at the cashier, then walking out.
"You never see the white bar owner from the Meatpacking District in here; it's always some bodega owner from uptown," one judge tells the Daily News and ProPublica. "It's a complete double standard."
Besides potentially closing the businesses for days or months, the police action ends up impacting the privacy of the businesses and their customers. Most owners end up settling the cases with the police, which often means NYPD can then search the premises without a warrant or install cameras that they can access when they want. Nearly 130 cases also forced the business owner to install an electronic card reader that kept customer ID information that could be accessed by the NYPD.
Letitia James, New York City public advocate, tells the Daily News and ProPublica that the "selective enforcement" is trouble." It's "a form of legal harassment and coercion," she says. Take a look at the full investigation here.