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The Marijuana Arrest Crusade in New York City: Racial Bias in Police Policy 1997-2007

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director April 30, 2008

    What major city in America has some of the most aggressively enforced cannabis laws (despite the fact that cannabis has been decriminalized there for more than 30 years)? What major city in America arrests nine minorities for every one Caucasian?

    Houston? Atlanta? Dallas? Birmingham? New Orleans? Miami?

    According to a new and comprehensive report, would you believe the five boroughs that make up New York City?

    mary_graph_1_sm.gif

     

     

    What was the New York City Police’s reaction to the data? In the New York Times today they of course attack the groups involved in bringing to the public’s attention the department’s overly aggressive and expensive enforcement of what are supposed to be decriminalized cannabis laws, and then make the amazing claim that there were not 350,000 cannabis-related arrests from 1997-2006, but a mere 8,770.

    What the ?!*%$?!#@*^$#<:+={/#@7$!!!

    The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, has denied that the city’s police officers are using racial profiling in conducting street stops.

    The department’s chief spokesman, Paul. J. Browne, said on Tuesday that the report was flawed. He said there were 8,770 marijuana-related violations from 1997 to 2006. In a statement, Mr. Browne said:

    The N.Y.C.L.U. has used an advocate for marijuana legalization to mislead the public with absurdly inflated numbers and false claims about bias. (Note that the report was underwritten by the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization organization). If the N.Y.C..L.U. is for legalization it should just say so without resorting to smears. It has repackaged
    virtually the same flawed presentation Harry Levine made to the marijuana legalization lobby group NORML in Los Angeles last year. The report erroneously claims that most of the over 300,000 persons arrested between 1997 and 2006 were not smoking marijuana in public and that they possessed only small amounts of marijuana; in other words, the
    infractions were violations. But the actual violations total for 1997-2006 was 8,770; not the 350,000. Between 2002 and 2006, the total was 3,449. Here’s the breakout by year:

    1997: 1062
    1998: 987
    1999: 810
    2000: 1394
    2001: 1068
    2002: 758
    2003: 701
    2004: 663
    2005: 623
    2006: 704 (It was 683 in 2007)

    Hmmmm….I wonder who is telling the truth here, public advocates or the cops?

    At least when NORML confronted Mayor Bloomberg on his 100th day in office in 2002 to stop the NYPD’s then controversial practices such as ‘Operation Condor’ that exploded the cannabis arrest from around 2,000 per year to over 55,000, the NYPD’s public spokesperson did not come out and, shall I say, prevaricate regarding New York City’s verifiable criminal justice data. Back then, the NYPD’s top brass in effect said to NORML and the national media ‘So what if there was an increase in arrest? We were tasked with a quality-of-life, ‘clean up New York City’s streets’ campaign under Mayor Giuliani…’

    The documentation of New York City’s massive increase cannabis arrests have been well documented for years (and affirmed by both state and federal data!), so why is the NYPD attempting to now downplay, in such a dramatic way, their nearly 15-year old aggressive policing policy regarding minor cannabis offenses?

    In a report released yesterday in coordination with the New York City Civil Liberties Union that should and hopefully will shake up the way the Bloomberg Administration and the NYPD conduct their cannabis law enforcement, Harry Levine, Ph.D of Queens College and Deborah Peterson Small, Esq. in remarkable breadth and detail reveal startling criminal justice data of excess and institutional racism in New York City’s criminal justice system.

    mary_graph_3_sm.gif

    Also included, which provide interesting insight, are on-the-record interviews with NYPD law enforcement personnel that help to explain the motivations (preview: ‘Dollar$ For Collars’) behind what is now truly a deviant cannabis prohibition enforcement policy in the United States—and the world.

    Who’d thunkit?!

    Key Points from The Marijuana Arrest Crusade in New York City: Racial Bias in Police Policy 1997-2007

    New York City’s 400,000 marijuana arrests were…

    …racially skewed. From 1997 to 2007 police arrested and jailed nearly 220,000 blacks, more than 112,000 Latinos, but only 58,000 whites. Over that period, whites represented the largest percentage of the city’s population. Government surveys consistently show a higher rate of marijuana use among young whites than in other racial groups.

    …extremely skewed by gender. About 91 percent of people arrested were male.

    …ineffective in reducing serious and violent crime. The arrests may well increase crime by diverting police officers and resources from more effective anti-crime work.

    …often the result of stop, frisk and search encounters. In 2007, the NYPD stopped nearly 469,000 people. The vast majority (87 percent) of people stopped were innocent of any wrongdoing.

    New York City’s 400,000 marijuana arrests were not…

    …in line with the marijuana arrest rates of other large cities. New York City now arrests and jails more people for possessing marijuana than any city in the United States or the world.

    …part of a similar increase in marijuana arrests nationwide. While marijuana arrests more than doubled in the U.S. from 1990 to 2000, they have spiked tenfold in New York City and now represent 10 percent of all arrests in the city.

    …the result of an increase in marijuana use, which peaked nationally around 1980.

    …primarily of people caught smoking marijuana in public. Most people arrested for marijuana possession in the city had small amounts of the drug concealed in their possessions, often in a pocket, purse or backpack.

    …of people caught for more serious crimes who happened to be possessing marijuana. In all of these arrests, marijuana possession was the highest charge and often the only one.

    …the result of people committing crimes. Simple possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is not a crime under New York state law, which classifies marijuana possession as a violation, like a traffic violation.

    NYC Media Coverage 

    Jim Dwyer – NY Times – “On Arrests, Demographics, and
    Marijuana”   THE ABSOLUTE BEST!!!
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/30/nyregion/30about.html?pagewanted=print

    Newsday – “Report: NYPD targets blacks, Hispanics on marijuana”  by
    Rocco Parascondola
    http://www.newsday.com/news/local/newyork/ny-nymari0430,0,1720357,print.story

    NY TIMES on line, with reader comments
    “A Little Stop-and-Frisk May Turn Up a Little Pot”
    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/29/a-little-stop-and-frisk-may-turn-up-a-little-pot/index.html?scp=2&sq=marijuana&st=cse

    NY Daily News – Racial slant in pot busts?
    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2008/04/29/2008-04-29_racial_slant_in_pot_busts.html
    41 on line comments as of 2 PM April  30

    Village Voice – “The NYPD ‘Weeds’ Out Blacks and Latinos:  New study
    outlines racial disparity in NYC’s staggering number of pot
    busts”  by Sean Gardiner    VERY GOOD!
    http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0818,weeding-out-blacks-and-latinos,427158,2.html

    Gothamist – NYCLU Reports NYC’s Pot Arrests Up “Tenfold”
    http://gothamist.com/2008/04/30/pot_1.php

    Nat Hentoff – Village Voice – Ray Kelly for Mayor? A Voters’ Guide
    In this proudly cosmopolitan city, the NYPD and its leader are far
    from color-blind
    http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0818,kelly-for-mayor-a-voters-guide,427148,4.html

    1010 WINS NEWS RADIO
    http://www.1010wins.com/pages/2093876.php?

    NATIONAL MEDIA
    Reason – New York City’s ‘Marijuana Arrest Crusade’  by Jacob Sullum
    http://reason.com/blog/show/126253.html

    Associated Press – NYCLU says city is now world’s ‘marijuana arrest
    capital’  By Tom Hayws http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newyork/ny-bc-ny–nyc-potarrests0429apr29,0,4022052.story
    Also in CBS New (California)  Study: NYC Is World’s ‘Marijuana Arrest Capital’
    http://cbs2.com/watercooler/nyc.marijuana.arrests.2.712135.html

    Associated Press – NYCLU says city is now world’s ‘marijuana arrest
    capital’  By Tom Hayws
    http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newyork/ny-bc-ny–nyc-potarrests0429apr29,0,4022052.story

    Also in CBS New (California)  Study: NYC Is World’s ‘Marijuana Arrest Capital’
    http://cbs2.com/watercooler/nyc.marijuana.arrests.2.712135.html

    1010 WINS NEWS RADIO – NYCLU Says City Is Now World’s ‘Marijuana
    Arrest Capital’
    http://www.1010wins.com/pages/2093876.php?

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