Gov. Eliot Spitzer is proposing a major expansion of New York’s bank of DNA samples. Currently, New York state collects DNA from those convicted of serious crimes. Spitzer is proposing to include people convicted of most crimes (including those found guilty of any misdemeanor, such as drug offenses, harassment and unauthorized use of a credit card). New Yorkers should recognize this for what it is: a major enlargement of the police state.
In a free society, a DNA sample is collected only when directly relevant to a criminal event. Does the case involve blood, semen or tissue evidence? If so, then collect DNA. If not, then don’t.
Collecting DNA from suspects for crimes that do not involve blood, semen or tissue evidence is the same as collecting DNA from everybody. Why isn’t Spitzer proposing that? Because many New Yorkers would immediate recognize that for what it is. By preying on the majority’s prejudice against anyone suspected of a crime, Spitzer means to sneak into law a blatant police-state measure.
The policy is also inherently racist. The estimated 2005 population of New York City was 8,213,839, accounting for about 40 percent of New York state’s population. New York City is home to the largest African American community of any city in the nation. There is a significant Puerto Rican population in the city, as well.
Blacks account for 28 percent of the city and 16 percent of the state populations. Latinos account for 27 percent and 15 percent respectively. Given the racist practices of law enforcement (from the police through the courts), does anybody want to hazard a guess as to whose DNA will become state property in great disproportion?
Spitzer is soft-selling the plan by saying that he would make it easier for prisoners to use DNA to try to establish their innocence. But, there should be no barriers to prisoners using DNA to exonerate themselves in the first place. There is no need to have a DNA bank for such purposes, as DNA samples may be obtained from the prisoner on a case-by-case basis. Except for its propaganda value, DNA exoneration is irrelevant to Spitzer’s plan.
Andrew Austin is an associate professor of sociology, Green Bay, Wis.