Marijuana and Racial Inequality: A "Cannabis Day" Look at How Marijuana Arrests Discriminate Against Young Black People
In This Issue:
- Feature Story » GO
- Putting Faces on Justice » GO
- Segregation Behind Prison Bars » GO
- Upcoming Events » GO
Search our Clearinghouse of over 450 books, articles, and reports on racial disparity in the criminal justice system.
"Define Justice and Make Change"
Chicago, IL, September 23-25, 2010
The Facing Race conference will include discussions of hot-button race issues while offering models for change. It will serve as a focal point for organizations and individuals committed to crafting innovative strategies for changing policy and shaping culture to advance real racial justice.
Symposium on Crime and Justice
"The Past and Future of Empirical Sentencing Research"
Albany, NY, September 23-24, 2010
The symposium is based on the premise that new advances in sentencing research will come in part from engaging with other disciplines that focus on sentencing issues, and engaging with ongoing public policy issues like prison overcrowding and risk assessment. The main topics will be the role of race in sentencing outcomes, discretion and decision making, managing the criminal justice population, and risk assessment in the sentencing process.
Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Justice Research and Statistics Association 2010 National Conference
"Using Statistics and "Research to Improve Justice Policies and Practices"
Portland, Maine, October 28-29, 2010
The program includes more than 20 panel sessions on topics, including, corrections, domestic violence, human trafficking, racial disparity, reentry, research using national incident based reporting system (NIBRS) data, sentencing, substance abuse, tribal crime data, and victimization, as well as plenary discussions on current justice issues. There will also be skill building seminars (October 26th, 27th, and 30th) on cost-benefit analysis, evaluation methods, and evidence-based programs and practices.
Do you have a contribution or idea for Race & Justice News? Send an email to The Sentencing Project's research analyst, Valerie Wright.
The Sentencing Project
1705 DeSales Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
September 1, 2010
Race & Justice News
"The biggest crime in the U.S. criminal justice system is that it is a race-based institution where African-Americans are directly targeted and punished in a much more aggressive way than white people. Saying the U.S. criminal justice system is racist may be politically controversial in some circles. But the facts are overwhelming. No real debate about that."
-- Dr. Nancy Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Race/Ethnicity Program at Saint Catherine University
RACIAL PROFILING PART OF EVERYDAY LIFE IN BROOKLYN
Allegations of racial profiling have become common in many predominantly black neighborhoods across the country. The New York Times recently reviewed police data provided by the New York Police Department, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union on police stops and found that the police made nearly 52,000 stops in an eight-block radius of Brownsville, Brooklyn between January 2006 and March 2010. Overall, 88% of individuals stopped were black or Hispanic. Despite the large number of stops only 1% yielded an arrest over a four-year period. Typically, squad cars with flashing lights cruise along the main avenues and officers use their controversial "Stop, Question, and Frisk" tactic on residents. The encounters are so frequent that they amount to nearly one stop per year for the 14,000 residents over the four-year period.
The Times reports that if police think someone is carrying a weapon or entering a building without a key it is common for them to ask for identification and check to see if the individual has any warrants. In many encounters with police, residents were told that they fit the description of a suspect. However, the data show that less than 9% of stops were made based on "fit description." More often than not, the police listed "furtive movement," a vague category that equates to "other" as the grounds for the stop. This stop-and-frisk strategy has come under intense scrutiny and the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights have filed lawsuits challenging the NYPD's current practices. Click here to read more.
PUTTING FACES ON JUSTICE
VOICES FROM BROOKLYN
Watch and listen to the residents from a public housing community in Brownsville, Brooklyn speak for themselves about how they believe they have been unfairly targeted by police stop-and-frisk tactics. One young man states "If you see cops, they automatically search you." Several other residents say they feel "belittled," "violated" and "degraded" as a result of their contact with police.
SEGREGATION BEHIND PRISON BARS
INMATES STILL HOUSED BY RACE AFTER SUPREME COURT RULING
In a 5-3 decision reached in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that prison officials in California could not rely solely on racial classification when assigning inmate housing. Historically, prison officials in the state have relied on race to separate male inmates. Five years after the ruling, approximately 165,000 inmates in California are still housed by race and critics argue that the state is not responding quickly enough to the ruling. Part of the problem is that the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does not keep a record of integrated cells and therefore does not know how much change has occurred. In addition, only four of California's 30 prisons have implemented guidelines that consider additional factors such as gang affiliation and offense committed in determining housing location.
One prison spokesman, Lt. Anthony Gentile, asserted that "These boundaries are determined by the inmate population." Another spokeswoman, Terry Thornton, emphasizes that there is no deadline for ending segregation by race in prisons and such changes should be implemented slowly. In addition, she points out that, "The deficit-ridden state also has no money for additional training needed for prison staffers to learn the new ways to assign cellmates." Click here to read more.
The Sentencing Project is a national, nonprofit organization engaged in research and advocacy for criminal justice reform.
If you don't think racial profiling is a real problem, I'd like to introduce you to some young men who beg to differ. Anyone in the black community who opposes marijuana legalization should see this video:
Is it any wonder that the consequences of our marijuana laws fall hardest on people of color? If that's who police are stopping and searching, then that's who will be arrested and stuck with a criminal record the rest of their life. The whole situation is so blatantly horrible and unfair, it's hard to believe anyone was even remotely surprised to see NAACP finally speaking out about it.
This week's news that the California NAACP is endorsing Prop. 19 to legalize marijuana in California hasn't exactly been met with universal applause in the black community. Anti-pot crusader Bishop Ron Allen thinks it's a conspiracy, Big Ced at News One thinks NAACP is stoned, and blogger Mo' Kelly thinks they've lost sight of the distinction between civil rights and civil liberties:
The issue of decriminalizing marijuana is a separate and distinct discussion from the inherent inequities of the criminal justice system. Both are legitimate issues, but not meant to be commingled.
The NAACP, the nation’s oldest CIVIL RIGHTS organization walking point on the CIVIL LIBERTIES issue of marijuana legalization is a farce and an embarrassment. Let the ACLU do what it does…so the NAACP (in California and beyond) can deal with real CIVIL RIGHTS issues…
Ok, but the two aren't mutually exclusive. Let's not forget how these marijuana laws came about in the first place:
In the eastern states, the "problem" was attributed to a combination of Latin Americans and black jazz musicians. Marijuana and jazz traveled from New Orleans to Chicago, and then to Harlem, where marijuana became an indispensable part of the music scene, even entering the language of the black hits of the time (Louis Armstrong's "Muggles", Cab Calloway's "That Funny Reefer Man", Fats Waller's "Viper's Drag").
Again, racism was part of the charge against marijuana, as newspapers in 1934 editorialized: "Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice." [Why is Marijuana Illegal?]
The decision to prohibit marijuana was fueled by racist hysteria, and many have argued that the decades of racially disparate enforcement that followed weren't entirely coincidental. Whether or not our marijuana laws were intended to serve as an instrument of racial oppression, they've performed that function with staggering precision. And when people of color receive unequal treatment under the law, that's a civil rights issue.
Our marijuana laws have never, and will never, be enforced fairly. The brutality of modern drug enforcement reaches every community, but if young white men were given criminal records and subjected to profiling and police harassment at the same rates as people of color, the criminal justice system would quickly come to a crashing halt. The drug war was built on a foundation of fundamental unfairness, and mitigating its catastrophic impact on communities of color requires measures far more drastic than telling police for the millionth time that there's more to their job than searching young black men all day and night.
No, legalizing marijuana won't solve the problem. Not even close. But what it will do is remove one of the primary justifications police rely upon when stopping and searching people in urban communities. It will stop the hemorrhaging of employment opportunities lost by those convicted of simple possession. It will cripple the existing distribution model, thereby reducing youth involvement, street violence and the cyclical lure of the prohibition economy and the severe criminal justice consequences faced by its participants. It will shield generations from the fate that our formerly pot-smoking President was so desperately lucky to have avoided.
If anyone thinks we can solve these problems while still making nearly a million marijuana arrests every year, then please explain. But don't condemn NAACP for supporting a new approach when the old one has failed as consistently and dramatically as it has.