A new report claimed the New York Police Department demanded DNA swabs of hundreds of Black and brown men while searching for the Howard Beach killer.
According to The New York Daily News, approximately 360 people were harassed. Only a few were arrested before. Many of the men came from Queens, were aged from 20 to 60 years old and suspected of killing 30-year-old Karina Vetrano due to their race.
The woman was murdered while jogging in Queens in 2016. In late April, Chanel Lewis was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying. Lewis is Black and Vetrano was white. The high-profile case illuminated issues of racial profiling by critics who believe suspects' rights were violated during the search.
Lewis' defense believed his videotaped confession was coerced and questioned the DNA swab collected from their client was not consensual as claimed, ABC New York reports.
“This DNA dragnet of Black and brown New Yorkers brings the NYPD’s racially biased policing to a new low,” Terri Rosenblatt, supervising attorney of the DNA Unit at the Legal Aid Society told The Daily News.
“The police aggressively collect DNA from New Yorkers using a variety of racially biased and sometimes secretive means. These tactics are fundamentally inconsistent with the fair policing that our city lawmakers claim to support and only serves to sow more distrust of the police without any significant law enforcement purpose.”
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In some instances, family members of the accused were also harassed during the DNA collection. The report claimed 106th Precinct detectives visited one family's home so frequently they moved. One man told The Daily News police harassed his teenaged sister to get information on his whereabouts.
Civil rights lawyer Joel Berger told the outlet police may have taken advantage of the men. When historically disenfranchised people are approached by police, they are likely to comply to avoid a violent encounter. These men may not know their rights. Berger and others are worried campaigns of this nature are more common than previously thought.
“'Consent rarely is voluntary," Berger told The Daily News. "The law is clear that a waiver of one’s right must be 'knowing and intelligent,' and that must include [the] awareness that one has the right to refuse. Police illegally put pressure on people to ‘consent’ in various ways such as claiming that they can arrest or return speedily with a warrant, or threatening other consequences.”
Although Lewis was convicted, he maintains his innocence. The Legal Aid Society is planning to file a notice of appeal on Lewis’ behalf.
Additionally, the NYPD has denied conducting DNA swabbings unlawfully since the release of the report.
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