The 2018 documentary Crime and Punishment, released on Hulu, centers on a dozen New York Police Department officers, both retired and employed, bringing forth a class action lawsuit against the city for enforcing racist quotas, and then retaliating against officers for not complying. In the state of New York, it was made illegal for police departments to mandate their officers follow quotas and summonses, yet in the largest police department in the country, New York City continued to expect their cops to arrest a certain number of people a month. While quotas in general are already controversial enough, there were many racist undertones to these policies, most likely due to broken windows theory forcing officers to have higher patrols in impoverished neighborhoods. Essentially, in order to meet these quotas, police officers would arrest people, primarily young black and Latino boys, for offenses such as possession of a weapon, and then dismiss the case due to lack of evidence; this in turn creates a ripple effect for minority boys so that if they ever are arrested and they actually did commit the crime they’re accused of, a judge will look at their record of false arrests and likely impose an even harsher sentence or bail. The quotas also brought great harm to minority police officers, such as NYPD 12 Edwin Raymond who was denied promotion first for being a black man with dreads and then for calling out the NYPD for corruption. Ultimately, the community supported the NYPD 12 and their lawsuit and the police commissioner stepped down from his position, however the lawsuit found that police cannot sue for imposing quotas but only file complaints about it.
This film exposed the intricacies of the reasons why the police target minorities, and it is a perspective that is important to highlight when studying the criminal justice system. Many young men in New York were interviewed about their experiences, and most of them revealed the pattern of racial profiling that goes on in their neighborhoods. This term was defined in class as “any policing that subjects individuals to greater scrutiny based in whole or in part on race” (Hutchins, 2018). One police officer even admitted to being instructed to do racial profiling, as his sergeant told him to stop any black male between the ages of 14 to 21, and the officer has no choice but to oblige unless he wants to lose his job. Racial profiling then leads to arrests and sitting in prison instead of sitting in a classroom, as was the case for Pedro Hernandez, who was accused of shooting someone and then held in Rikers under a $250,000 bond. Oftentimes, young people in lower income neighborhoods have less power when it comes to the police, and when they are forced to pay bonds like Pedro was, despite no evidence being found for his alleged crime, it contributes to NYPD’s annual budget; perhaps another justification that is used for profiling black and Latino men above all others. Rikers Island is infamous for housing more than the facilities can handle, and “of the 77,000 people who come through there during the year, 85 percent have not yet been convicted of a crime” (Edelman, p.51, 2017).
Unfortunately, exploiting people for monetary purposes is not the only reason the NYPD targets black boys. There is the narrative that African American males are more prone to violence and criminal activity, and surveys have found that people believe “African Americans pose a greater threat to public order and safety than other groups, as well as support for harsher juvenile sanctions” (Davis, p.50, 2018). The super predator mindset is dangerous, and by forcing police officers to meet a quota at the end of the month, they are left with little options but to target the people who no one will care enough to fight for. One of the men in the film spoke of this, and believes that police will get a racial disparate outcome without ever having to mention race to their officers.
I think a majority of the time we place our focus on the victims of the criminal justice system, evaluating how race and sex is used against people, but this documentary truly highlights the actors that criminalize people, and how they are affected by it. One of the themes of this film was about how much bond and bail money contribute to a police department’s budget, and that it is the more subtle reason why quotas are still enforced. This really stood out to me, as it goes back to America’s history of prioritizing money in the name of degrading an entire race of people. Ultimately, I believe this documentary did a great job of explaining both sides of the coin and did not leave much room for interpretation; whatever opinions they had, the officers backed it up with evidence. Crime and Punishment is a great watch for anyone needs to hear more from the inside as opposed to the black boys being affected by institutional racism, and genuinely exposes police department’s intentions.
Davis, A. J. (2018). Policing the Black man: arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment. Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
Edelman, P. B. (2017). Not a crime to be poor: the criminalization of poverty in America. The New Press.
Hutchins, M. (2018). The endurance of racial disparity in the criminal justice system. In A. Davis (Ed.), Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 31–56). story, Vintage Books.