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Protestors Challenge NYC Mayor on Mass Marijuana Arrests [FEATURE]

New York City has the dubious -- and well-earned -- reputation as the world's marijuana arrest capital, with more than 50,000 people being arrested for pot possession there last year alone at an estimated cost of $75 million. It also has a mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has famously said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, yet who presides over a police force that has run roughshod over the state's marijuana decriminalization law in order to make those arrests, almost all of which are of members of the city's black and brown minority communities.

Protestors call on Mayor Bloomberg (DPA)
Last Thursday, activists and concerned citizens organized as the New Yorkers for Health & Safety campaign marched to the mayor's home, an apartment building in Manhattan's Upper East Side, to call him on his hypocrisy, chastise the NYPD for its racially-skewed stop-and-frisk policing, and demand that the city quit wasting tens of millions a dollar a year on low-level marijuana arrests even as it proposes cuts to other vital New York City services.

The campaign, consisting of members of the Drug Policy Alliance, VOCAL-NY, the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, and Women on the Rise Telling Her Story (WORTH), among others, brought out dozens of people for a march to the mayor's residence, followed by a brief rally. Protestors, some wearing Mayor Bloomberg masks, held signs and chanted as they rallied across the street from the apartment building.

"Bloomberg is doing more than wasting $75 million a year on marijuana arrests, he is wasting the future our youth," said Chino Hardin, lead know-your-rights trainer for the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. "We don't want kids using drugs, so why not put money into real programs that will help them make better choices, not give forever lasting criminal records."

On the march to the mayor's place, with Bloomberg masks (DPA)
Under New York state law, the possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized, punishable by a ticket and fine. But NYPD practice, designed to get around that law and generate arrests, is to stop and frisk citizens going about their business, almost always young people of color, order them to empty their pockets (which they are not required by law to do), then arrest them for possession of marijuana in public when a baggie containing weed emerges. That is not an infraction, but a misdemeanor, and the victims are then arrested and jailed, typically for 24 hours or more, before being arraigned and released.

Last year, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly ordered an end to that practice, but that has yet to be reflected in declining marijuana possession arrest numbers. And those numbers are huge: In addition to the more than 50,000 arrested last year, another 350,000 have been arrested since Bloomberg took office in 2002, at an estimated cost to the city of $600 million.

Even though whites use marijuana at higher rates than any other ethnic or racial group, nearly 85% of those arrested for pot possession are black and Latino, and most are under 30. Being arrested for pot means more than a day or so in jail; it also creates a permanent criminal record that can easily be accessed by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards and banks, damaging the life prospects of those saddled with a rap sheet.

"For a mayor who celebrates diversity as a key staple of the city, he sure has a horrible way of demonstrating his appreciation for certain communities in our City," said Kassandra Frederique, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. "Black and Latino New Yorkers cannot walk down the street without fear of being stopped, frisked, illegally searched, and then falsely charged and arrested for something that was decriminalized over 30 years ago. This is costing us millions of dollars as taxpayers. It's an insult, and must end now."

Academic marijuana arrest researcher Harry Levine has a few words for the mayor (DPA)
Mayor Bloomberg last year launched a new $130 million Young Men's Initiative, "the nation's boldest and most comprehensive effort to tackle the broad disparities slowing the advancement of black and Latino young men," but continues to preside over a marijuana arrest policy seemingly designed to increase those disparities. That makes the mayor a hypocrite, the protestors charged.

"Mayor Bloomberg is talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to helping young Black and Latino men like me," said Alfredo Carrasquillo, a community organizer for VOCAL-NY who has been targeted under stop-and-frisk practices, illegally searched and falsely arrested for marijuana possession. "The money for his Young Men's Initiative goes to waste along with the taxpayer dollars he's wasting on pursuing his marijuana arrests crusade in my community."

"New York City is spending $75 million dollars a year to arrest and prosecutor mostly young people of color simply for possessing marijuana -- which is not a crime in New York State." said Harry Levine, Queens College Professor and founder of the Marijuana Arrest Research Project. "It is long past time for this outrage to stop."

The sign says it all (DPA)
It isn't just activists who have taken notice. Lawmakers in Albany have crafted bipartisan legislation, Assembly Bill 7620, introduced by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D, WFP-Brooklyn), and companion measure Senate Bill 5187, introduced by Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo), that would standardize marijuana possession penalties statewide, enforcing the original legislative intent of the 1977 decriminalization law. Dozens of New York City council members have signed onto a resolution supporting those bills and calling to end to the mass marijuana arrests.

"The explosion of low level marijuana arrests in New York City is a tremendous waste of precious law enforcement resources and needlessly scars thousands of young lives," said Jeffries. "Our legislation is an additional step toward a more equitable criminal justice system that treats everyone the same, regardless of race or socioeconomic status."

Activists in the city aren't waiting for Albany to ride to the rescue. They are planning more street actions, including one next month, said the Drug Policy Alliance's Frederique, and they're looking for some white guys.

"We will be having an action in April, but haven't yet decided on the date and location, or the exact nature of the action," she said. "We're trying to get white men under 30 to show up, since those are the people who actually smoke marijuana, but don't get arrested. And we are cordially inviting New York City's most famous pot smoker, Mayor Bloomberg, to attend."

An organizing meeting for the April action will take place next Wednesday, April 4, at 113 West 13th Street in Manhattan. Contact the organizations linked to above for more information.

Does Refusing a Search Give Police Probable Cause?

Here's the latest clip from my new YouTube series, How to Deal with Cops. Hopefully you'll find it interesting even if you think you already know the answer. Enjoy.

Fixing the Fiasco of the NYPD's Marijuana Arrests

Location: 
New York, NY
United States
Two New York State legislators have proposed a simple, effective legislative fix to New York City's 15-year marijuana arrest craze. Senator Mark Grisanti, a white Republican from Buffalo, and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a black Democrat from Brooklyn, have together offered legislation that would strike from the law the misdemeanor for simple marijuana possession of less than an ounce. The NYPD made 50,000 of these marijuana possession arrests in 2010 and 500,000 arrests since 1997.
Publication/Source: 
The Huffington Post (CA)
URL: 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-levine/fixing-the-fiasco-of-the-_b_864368.html

New York Bill Would Reduce Charge for Marijuana Possession

Location: 
NY
United States
In a rare show of bipartisanship and upstate-downstate agreement, freshman state Sen. Mark Grisanti is co-sponsoring a bill with Democratic Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries to reduce from a misdemeanor to a violation public possession of small amounts of marijuana. The co-sponsors say many people, especially minorities in New York City, end up getting arrested for small amounts if they are stopped by a police officer and told to empty their pockets -- at which point the possession becomes public.
Publication/Source: 
Times Union (NY)
URL: 
http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Bill-would-reduce-charge-for-pot-possession-1377453.php

Marijuana and Racial Inequality: A "Cannabis Day" Look at How Marijuana Arrests Discriminate Against Young Black People

April 20 (4/20) -- the date unofficially recognized nationwide as marijuana day -- is probably as good a time as any to explore how marijuana arrests in the Unites States exemplify racially skewed policing tactics.
Publication/Source: 
Salon (NY)
URL: 
http://www.salon.com/life/drugs/?story=/news/feature/2011/04/20/racially_biased_marijuana_policing

New Certification Proposed for Drug-Sniffing Dogs As They Are Wrong Far More Often Than Right

Location: 
IL
United States
A Illinois state representative has again asked fellow legislators to force police dogs to meet certification standards before being used for tasks such as sniffing for drugs at traffic stops. The bill, introduced by State Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) follows a recent investigation that showed drug-sniffing dogs, according to state data, have been wrong more often than they have been right about whether vehicles contain drugs or drug paraphernalia.
Publication/Source: 
Chicago Tribune (IL)
URL: 
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chibrknews-new-certification-proposed-for-drugsniffing-dogs-20110208,0,872573.story

Drug Trade Among Whites More Open in NYC?

Location: 
New York, NY
United States
While police crack down on drug deals in mostly minority neighborhoods, the drug trade among whites in New York City operates with relative impunity, statistics show. In 2009, only 10 percent of the 46,000 people arrested on marijuana-related charges by the New York City Police Department were white, according to a 2010 study — though whites are often among its heaviest drug users.
Publication/Source: 
Metro (NY)
URL: 
http://www.metro.us/newyork/local/article/738857--drug-trade-among-whites-more-open

'False Positives' Suggest Police Exploit Canines to Justify Searches

Location: 
IL
United States
A study of "false positives" involving drug-sniffing police dogs suggests some police forces may be using canines to do an end-run around constitutional protections against search and seizure, and may be profiling racial minorities in the process. A survey of primarily suburban police departments in Illinois, carried out by the Chicago Tribune, found that 56 percent of all police searches triggered by a drug-sniffing dog turned nothing up. But, perhaps tellingly, that number jumped to 73 percent when the search involved a Latino subject -- meaning that nearly three-quarters of all dog alerts on Latinos turned up no contraband.
Publication/Source: 
The Raw Story (DC)
URL: 
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/01/false-positives-police-canines-searches/

White Privilege and Illicit Drugs

Algernon Austin, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, explores white privilege in conjunction with the war on drugs against the backdrop of the book Dorm Room Dealers: Drugs and the Privileges of Race and Class by A. Rafik Mohamed and Erik D. Fritsvold.
Publication/Source: 
The Huffington Post (CA)
URL: 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/algernon-austin/white-privilege-and-illic_b_804130.html

Race & Justice News: Segregation Behind Prison Bars

 

Race & Justice News

 

Race & Justice News

 

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.

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Upcoming Events


Facing Race
"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. 

Contact Us

Do you have a contribution or idea for Race & Justice News? Send an email to The Sentencing Project's research analyst, Valerie Wright.

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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

FEATURED STORY

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.   

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The Sentencing Project is a national, nonprofit organization engaged in research and advocacy for criminal justice reform.

  

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