Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, May 14, 2018

NY Times highlights racialized realities of NYC marijuana arrests

Images (10)The front page of this morning's New York Times give attention to marijuana arrests via this extended article with this full headline summarizing its coverage: "Surest Way to Face Marijuana Charges in New York: Be Black or Hispanic: The police explanation that more black and Hispanic people are arrested on marijuana charges because complaints are high in their neighborhoods doesn’t hold up to scrutiny." Here is for the piece starts and some data reported:

They sit in courtroom pews, almost all of them young black men, waiting their turn before a New York City judge to face a charge that no longer exists in some states: possessing marijuana. They tell of smoking in a housing project hallway, or of being in a car with a friend who was smoking, or of lighting up a Black & Mild cigar the police mistake for a blunt.

There are many ways to be arrested on marijuana charges, but one pattern has remained true through years of piecemeal policy changes in New York: The primary targets are black and Hispanic people.

Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years, The New York Times found. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people.

With crime dropping and the Police Department under pressure to justify the number of low-level arrests it makes, a senior police official recently testified to lawmakers that there was a simple reason for the racial imbalance: More residents in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods were calling to complain about marijuana.

An analysis by The Times found that fact did not fully explain the racial disparity. Instead, among neighborhoods where people called about marijuana at the same rate, the police almost always made arrests at a higher rate in the area with more black residents, The Times found.

In Brooklyn, officers in the precinct covering Canarsie arrested people on marijuana possession charges at a rate more than four times as high as in the precinct that includes Greenpoint, despite residents calling 311, the city’s help line, and 911 to complain about marijuana at the same rate, police data show. The Canarsie precinct is 85 percent black. The Greenpoint precinct is 4 percent black.

In Queens, the marijuana arrest rate is more than 10 times as high in the precinct covering Queens Village as it is in precinct that serves Forest Hills. Both got marijuana complaints at the same rate, but the Queens Village precinct is just over half black, while the one covering Forest Hills has a tiny portion of black residents.

And in Manhattan, officers in a precinct covering a stretch of western Harlem make marijuana arrests at double the rate of their counterparts in a precinct covering the northern part of the Upper West Side. Both received complaints at the same rate, but the precinct covering western Harlem has double the percentage of black residents as the one that serves the Upper West Side....

Mayor Bill de Blasio said in late 2014 that the police would largely give summonses instead of making arrests for carrying personal marijuana, and reserve arrests mainly for smoking in public. Since then, the police have arrested 17,500 people for marijuana possession on average a year, down from about 26,000 people in 2014, and issued thousands of additional summonses. Overall, arrests have dropped sharply from their recent peak of more than 50,000 during some years under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. About 87 percent of those arrested in recent years have been black or Hispanic, a proportion that has remained roughly the same for decades, according to research led by Harry G. Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College....

The city’s 77 precincts, led by commanders with their own enforcement priorities, show erratic arrest patterns. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for example, the police made more than twice as many marijuana arrests last year as in 2016, despite receiving roughly the same number of annual complaints. And in a precinct covering a section of northwestern Harlem, arrests dropped to 90 last year from almost 700 a year earlier, even though complaints fell only slightly from one year to the next.

The NY Times also has this companion article headlined "Using Data to Make Sense of a Racial Disparity in NYC Marijuana Arrests." Here is how it ends:

What we discovered was that when two precincts had the same rate of marijuana calls, the one with a higher arrest rate was almost always home to more black people. The police said that had to do with violent crime rates being higher in those precincts, which commanders often react to by deploying more officers.

More scrutiny is in store for the department’s low-level arrest tactics. A recently passed local law requires the police to post data about the race of people arrested for fare evasion and the subway stations where they are arrested, but the police have yet to comply.

When it comes to marijuana, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he’s still making up his mind about where he stands on legalization. In the first three months of this year, 89 percent of the roughly 4,000 people arrested for marijuana possession in New York City were black or Hispanic.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/05/ny-times-highlights-racialized-realities-of-nyc-marijuana-arrests.html

Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink

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