Adams declares Black Businesses Matter

Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams.
Associated Press / Seth Wenig

Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams on Friday joined business owner of color, advocates and elected leaders in calling for a halt on on what they describe as “overly punitive enforcement” on Black and Brown businesses by the New York City Police Department (NYPD), the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) and other city and state entities.

Adams said the business owners present offered testimonies of their experiences, “which have involved exorbitant fines, required changes to a business’s method of operation (e.g. shorter hours), and even revocation of a business’s liquor license.”

In addition, under the recent Phase Two re-opening amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the borough president said businesses can be penalized and have their liquor licenses revoked if they fail to comply with social distancing guidelines.

“Amid an economic recession, these penalties can be financially ruinous to business owners, many of whom have taken a major hit to their respective bottom lines due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” he said, calling for a moratorium on violations and for a comprehensive review to be done of all pending SLA violations “to ensure they are not being issued in a racially-biased manner.”

Adams and the business owners also called for NYPD Commissioner Shea to sit down with local business owners who have experienced these issues in order to hear their concerns and change the way certain violations are enforced

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, The Black Institute, and Black and Brown business owners from across the city joined Adams in calling for a halt on over-enforcement, particularly of businesses in rapidly gentrifying areas, “to ensure these vulnerable businesses can remain financially viable during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“It’s clear from the heartbreaking testimonials of business owners, particularly those in rapidly gentrifying areas, that there is a troubling pattern of unfair over-enforcement on Black and Brown businesses, from issuing summonses for minor infractions to levying ruinous fines,” Adams said. “This needs to stop. Black and Brown business owners are already suffering from the economic devastation of COVID-19, and they need our help.

“I am calling for an immediate moratorium on the issuance of summonses and violations except in egregious circumstances, and for the New York Attorney General’s office to immediately conduct an investigation into whether this enforcement is being applied in a racially-discriminatory manner,” he added. “I thank Council Member Cabrera and these business owners for joining me, and for sharing their stories.”

Bertha Lewis, founder and president of The Black Institute, said that “one of the most important steps in addressing the institutional racism within the New York City Police Department is to end once and for all the constant summonsing and harassment of minority businesses, particularly of Black businesses.

“The Black Institute has been sounding the alarm on behalf of minority businesses for over 10 years now and, during that time, thousands have been allowed to die quiet deaths,” she said. “The NYPD along with Cuomo’s Liquor Authority have been targeting minority nightlife for decades, and this pattern has continued during the pandemic.

“We demand transparency, and we demand accountability, from the Mayor, from the Cuomo-appointed State Liquor Authority and the NYPD Commissioner,” Lewis added. “Commissioner Shea must sit down with advocates and begin to address this pervasive issue within his department.”

In a report published in 2017, The Black Institute found “a clear pattern of racially-discriminatory enforcement” in Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots (MARCH) raids, which involve the NYPD and other agencies, and often lead to fines that can shut an establishment down.

The report found that neighborhoods that contain a minority population at least 45 percent were targeted by MARCH operations at four times the rate of less diverse neighborhoods.

Under legislation passed last year in the City Council, Adams said the New York City Office of Nightlife is required to report on MARCH operations conducted across the city, as well as require the NYPD to deliver written notifications at least 30 days prior to a potential MARCH operation.

To date, no reports have been provided, Adams said.

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