Last summer, as the Black Lives Matter movement protested and rioted across the country in response to the police-involved death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, businesses in numerous U.S. cities were ravaged and looted.
NBC News reported that prosecutors in the Bronx and Manhattan have decided to drop burglary and looting charges against hundreds of rioters, angering store owners who had their businesses destroyed.
“I was in total shock that everything is being brushed off to the side,” Jessica Betancourt, whose eyeglass shop was one of the businesses looted, told NBC.
The outlet reported that a review of New York Police Department data show a large percentage of the cases against looters have been dismissed, leaving mostly convictions for the lesser charge of trespassing, which carries no jail time.
“According to the data, 118 arrests were made in the Bronx during the worst of the looting in early June,” NBC reported. “Since then, the NYPD says the Bronx district attorney and the courts have dismissed most of those cases — 73 in all. Eighteen cases remain open and there have been 19 convictions for mostly lesser counts like trespassing, counts which carry no jail time.”
Betancourt said other local business leaders were also angry at the numbers and the fact that few people are actually being punished for their crimes.
Manhattan is in a similar situation, with NYPD data showing 485 arrests were made, but 22 have since been dropped, with 73 convictions of lesser charges such as trespassing. “Another 40 cases involved juveniles and were sent to family court; 128 cases remain open,” the outlet reported.
More from NBC:
Sources in the DA’s offices in Manhattan and the Bronx said that evidence, in some cases, was simply not strong enough for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And with the courts closed amid the Covid pandemic, there was a huge backlog of cases that was unwieldy for both the courts and prosecutors.
The NYPD did set up a task force after the riots to examine videos and photos to separate suspected rioters from peaceful protesters. That work shares similarities with what the FBI is doing in making hundreds of arrests after the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
But unlike federal prosecutors who are moving forward with prosecutions of the Capitol Hill rioters, New York City prosecutors are disposing of most burglary-related cases.
Wilbur Chapman, a law enforcement expert and former NYPD chief of patrol, told NBC that if the prosecutors “are so overworked that they can’t handle the mission that they’re hired for, then maybe they should find another line of work.” He added that while the NYPD conducted follow-up investigations for individual cases, prosecutors and courts did not.
“It allowed people who committed crimes to go scot free,” he told the outlet.
An internal memo from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance told members of his office, “For many of these commercial burglaries, you will be asked to reduce the initial felony charge to a misdemeanor and to dispose of the case … with an eye towards rehabilitation.”