Thousands of New Yorkers are getting arrested because of this 1950s law

You might have violated this law without even realizing it.

In New York City, about 4,000 people are arrested each year for the crime of carrying a common folding knife.

Many of the defendants turn out to be people who need the knives for work, including electricians, plumbers, and construction workers. But under a 1958 New York state law, they’re often prosecuted for carrying a gravity knife — defined as a knife where the blade drops out of the handle and locks into place by the force of gravity — and possession can result in a felony conviction and years of jail time.


“It didn’t make sense to me — for a pocket knife to have somebody’s life ruined is crazy. It really is." Roderick Prude, a cafeteria cook whose arrest for possession of a gravity knife was bumped up to a felony, told VICE News.

Around 84 percent of people prosecuted under the law are people of color, prompting advocates to push back against what they see as an absurd and discriminatory law.

These activists have found an unlikely ally in Doug Ritter, head of Knife Rights, a grassroots organization devoted to getting rid of knife laws across the United States that acts as a sort of NRA of knives. And they've been gearing up for a fight: Knife Rights filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2011 against the city of New York and District Attorney Cy Vance over the statute against gravity knives.

This segment originally aired on February 15, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.