Were Two Men Arrested for Manspreading in New York?

Published Jun 2, 2015

At least two men were reportedly arrested for 'manspreading' incidents on New York City's subway system.

Comment: This is going around Facebook:

‘Manspreading’: New misdemeanor plaguing NYC subway, first arrests reported

But Googling "manspreading" and "police" only gets hits from sites like Newsmax, Breitbart, Free Republic, etc.  Any truth to this?

On 28 May 2015, the New York City-centric blog Gothamist published an article titled "Cops Arrest Subway Riders For 'Manspreading.'" Referencing a document sourced from a police reform group, it reported that at least two male subway riders were arrested for "manspreading."

If the term sounds unfamiliar to you, "manspreading" is a neologism describing a nuisance wherein male passengers of public transport occupy space outside their seats. The issue of manspreading caused controversy in December 2014 when New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) released a series of ads discouraging the practice, and at the time the New York Times described both the behavior and the MTA's new campaign:

The new ads — aimed at curbing rude behavior like manspreading and wearing large backpacks on crowded trains — are set to go up in the subways next month. They will all carry the slogan, “Courtesy Counts: Manners Make a Better Ride.”

One of the posters is likely to be especially welcome to women — as well as to men who frown on manspreading: “Dude... Stop the Spread, Please” reads the caption next to an image of riders forced to stand as a man nearby sits so that he takes up two seats.

Predictably, the MTA's campaign was both lauded and mocked. Coverage of the manspreading public service announcements appeared in outlets in the US and Europe, but outcry centered almost solely upon its unfairness to male riders. When the issue of the MTA's stance against manspreading was debated in December 2014, none of it concerned the legality of the behavior and (as far as we could see) no anticipated arrests of manspreaders on the subway was discussed.

Between December 2014 and May 2015, the debate over manspreading abated. But when the Gothamist article appeared in late May 2015, interest in the purported manspreading-related arrests skyrocketed. The excerpt upon which the article was based was taken from a report [PDF] released by a group called the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), whose website tagline describes it as devoted to "[e]xposing discriminatory and abusive practices of the NYPD, that routinely and disproportionately affect our city's low-income communities and people of color." The report was undated (or not clearly dated, though it was published to PROP's Facebook page on 28 May 2015) and titled "That's How They Get You."

The relevant excerpt upon which multiple news articles about the purported manspreading arrests read:

On a recent visit to the arraignment part in Brooklyn’s criminal court, PROP volunteers observed that police officers had arrested two Latino men on the charge of "man spreading" on the subway, presumably because they were taking up more than one seat and therefore inconveniencing other riders. Before issuing an [adjournment contemplating dismissal] for both men, the judge expressed her skepticism about the charge because of the time of the arrests: "12:11AM, I can't believe there were many people on the subway".

The Gothamist article was cited by Breitbart, National Review, Newsweek, and Britain's Independent. One of the earliest articles about the PROP report appeared on Vice, and no mention was made of the purported manspreading arrests. Lost in the widespread aggregation of a controversial claim pertaining to an already contentious issue (manspreading) was a more contextually relevant portion of the Gothamist piece.

The site cited PROP director Robert Gangi and explained the source of the 117 "vignettes" that appeared in the report on Broken Windows policing. Gangi told Gothamist that the claims were compiled from various sources and "were usually based on court testimony — and occasionally on conversations with defendants and lawyers, or reviewing lawsuits or news reports":

The two men had outstanding warrants for other Broken Windows charges, namely, being in a park after closing and public urination, and their arrests brought them out of the pool of 1.2 million New York fugitives who missed court dates or failed to pay fines for low-level offenses. The MTA's rules of conduct only prohibit taking up more than one seat when it interferes with the functioning of the train or the "comfort of other passengers." Nevertheless, the judge, instead of dismissing the midnight manspreading charge outright, issued what's known as an ACD, a decision meaning all the charges will be thrown out if the defendant doesn't get arrested for a certain amount of time.

So while multiple outlets reported upon New York City's first manspreading arrests, those articles all traced back to a single Gothamist article. The original article was predicated upon a report released by a group advocating against the New York Police Department's controversial use of "Broken Windows" policing, and it comprised a potpourri of reports, anecdotes, and other datapoints of unspecified origin.

Missing from all claims about the manspreading arrests were the specific criminal codes under which the men were purportedly charged, the date of the infractions in question (or whether "recently" was in the last week, month or year), the names of the men charged, their ages, where the incident may have occurred, or any other information attesting to the fact two men were arrested in New York City at any point in history for quality of life crimes related to manspreading. Moreover, the original claim specified that the two men purportedly arrested for manspreading both had outstanding warrants, which in and of itself is cause to be ordered to appear in court and rarely culminates in being let go with just a warning. And, as New York magazine observed of this news:

Gothamist points out that it's against the MTA code of conduct to "occupy more than one seat when to do so would interfere or tend to interfere with the comfort of other passengers," but it's highly doubtful the train was actually crowded after midnight.

It's possible that two unnamed men were arrested in New York City for manspreading, but no details about the claim were made available in the original report or any of the many later repetitions of it. The scant informationsuggested that the men were arrested not for manspreading but for arrest warrants already active at the time they came to the attention of the NYPD.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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