How a 50s-era Knife Law Sent Thousands of New Yorkers to Jail
(Village Voice Cover Story)

Posted by on Aug 30, 2017 in Investigative/Enterprise, Longform

How a ‘50s-era New York Knife Law Landed Thousands in Jail, Padded Stop and Frisk Numbers, and Brought Right and Left Together



In retrospect, Richard Neal knows he should have just gone home.

It was already nearly 4 a.m. on a sticky June night in 2008, and the LaGuardia Houses on the Lower East Side were crawling with cops. It was the kind of situation Neal normally prefers to avoid. Where police are, he’d rather not be.

A trim, soft-spoken 59-year-old, Neal has had his share of problems with the law. More than his share, in fact, as he’ll readily admit. He has spent nearly a quarter of his life in prison. There was a burglary charge in 1978, followed by an assault charge in 1982. A nonviolent drug-distribution charge in 2002 landed him back inside.

Today, he acknowledges these incidents with some regret, in a voice that’s incongruously deep and sometimes trails off mournfully. He especially regrets the crimes that involved hurting other people.