Can You Be Arrested for "Manspreading"?

If you're sick of men taking up too much room on the subway, you'll probably appreciate this news: At least two men in New York have been arrested for "manspreading," aka spreading their legs out on the subway seat like they're the only people in the whole world. But as annoying as it is, should people really be arrested for it? In fact, there's a lot going on in this case that seems way more messed up than the manspreading itself.

According to the Police Reform Organizing Project's new "That's How They Get You" report, the two men in question are both Latino; PROP volunteers observed that they men had allegedly been detained because police said they were taking up too much room on the subway and presumably inconveniencing the other passengers. The case was ultimately dismissed on the condition that the defendants stay out of trouble for a set period of time; the judge also noted skeptically that, given that the arrests took place at 12:11 AM, it's hard to imagine there were that many fellow passengers for them to be inconveniencing — certainly not enough that the "crime" warranted an arrest.

There are a bunch of things wrong with this picture, the biggest one being that this instance of "manspreading" may have just been an excuse to harass two men of color on the subway and run background checks. In this case, the background checks revealed that each man had a warrant for other petty offenses (being in a park after closing and public urination), meaning the officers could then make an arrest.

Using low-level offenses as a pretext for a background check is a common tactic for many police departments, and it obviously sucks for several reasons. It essentially means that poor people who have a hard time paying municipal fines are held to a different standard than wealthier people; they're at risk of having their lives upended over some small misdeed like taking up too much space on the subway.

Now, I'll be the first to say that manspreading is annoying, especially during busy hours when it legitimately is taking away someone's seat or space required by those who need it. And I do think that the problem is part of the larger phenomenon of guys taking up more than space than is fair in both literal and metaphoric senses throughout all segments of society. However, the punishment for manspreading should be something like, say, having your picture taken and being made fun of on the Internet. It should not be getting arrested.

As someone who gets really ticked off by manspreading, I'm happy when I see things like the MTA acknowledging it and saying it's not proper behavior. But as someone who is well aware of the way in which people in this country have also used the concerns of women (and most especially white women) as an excuse to unfairly target men of color — just look at the history of lynching in America — I am really not in favor of cops starting to arrest people for manspreading.

Now, obviously one case isn't enough to indicate this is going to become a common thing, and I sincerely hope that it doesn't. For one thing, it will probably mean that middle- and upper-income white men will still get a pass, which is not a solution. And for another, my seat on the subway isn't worth someone facing criminal penalties.

In short, men of major metropolitan areas, I would still like you to confine yourselves to one subway seat. But let's not turn manspreading into an excuse for over-policing people of color.

Images: Giphy