There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!
One arraignment courtroom instead of two. Clerks watching “Batman” on their computer screens and playing with their cellphones as they wait for something to happen. And Manhattan’s night court shutting down an hour early because there are no more cases to call.
Those were scenes from the city’s arraignment courts in the third week of a precipitous drop in arrests by the New York Police Department. The usual chaotic bustle of the courts — the odd mix of transgressors, from murderers to fare-beaters — has given way to unusual scenes of tranquil inactivity.
“It’s slow, crazy slow,” Marcy Seckler, a veteran Legal Aid lawyer, remarked with a smile, as night court started in Manhattan on Tuesday.
Things did not pick up: Over the course of the night, only 30 defendants came before Judge Abraham Clott, who often rubbed his eyes and yawned. On a typical night, he would see 60 to 90 defendants. No more than 12 people sat in the courtroom at any time, and court officers checked their watches and wandered away from their posts.
At 12:15 a.m. Wednesday, the judge looked out into the gallery and its nine rows of benches, which were all empty. There were no prostitutes, no one accused of publicly drinking or urinating — and there had not been any all night.
Judge Clott declared the session over — 45 minutes early.
For the last two weeks, New York City police officers have sharply curtailed making arrests and issuing summonses. Only 347 criminal summonses were written in the seven days through Sunday, down from 4,077 in the same period a year ago.
The sharp downturn magnifies a continuing divide between the rank-and-file and Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose standing had fallen so low among uniformed officers that some turned their backs to him at the funerals of two slain officers.
The number of cases handled by the arraignment courts fell 36 percent in December compared with the same month last year, and most of the drop came in the last two weeks of the month, court officials said.
Just in the last two and a half weeks, arraignments for misdemeanors have fallen about 60 percent, to 2,581, from 6,395. The drop was more pronounced for people arrested for violations, like disorderly conduct: a 91 percent decline to 97 cases, compared with 1,157 over the same period a year ago.