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New York Bill Would Reduce Charge for Marijuana Possession

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.
Times Union (NY)

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.
Salon (NY)

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

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.
Chicago Tribune (IL)

Drug Trade Among Whites More Open in NYC?

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.
Metro (NY)

'False Positives' Suggest Police Exploit Canines to Justify Searches

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.
The Raw Story (DC)

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.
The Huffington Post (CA)

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.


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.



The Sentencing Project
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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



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.



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.



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.


Searching Black People for No Reason Isn't Police Work, It's Discrimination

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.

Marijuana Legalization is a Civil Rights Issue

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.

Drug War Chronicle Video Review: "10 Rules for Dealing With Police," from Flex Your Rights

In 2008, the latest year tallied in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, more than 14,000,000 people were arrested in the United States, and uncounted millions more were subject to "stop and frisk" searches either on the streets or after being stopped for an alleged traffic violations. Of all those arrests in 2008, more than 1.7 million were for drug offenses, and about half of those were for marijuana offenses. For both pot busts in particular and drug arrests in general, nearly 90% of those arrested were for simple possession. 10 Rules is available with a donation to now! "10 Rules" will help the both the entirely innocent and those guilty of nothing more of possessing drugs in violation of our contemptible drug laws reduce the harm of their run-ins with police. Not that it encourages the violation of any laws -- it doesn't -- but it does clearly, concisely, and effectively explain what people can do to exercise their constitutional rights while keeping their cool, in the process protecting themselves from police who may not have their best interests in mind. Those stops and those arrests mentioned above, of course, were not random or evenly distributed among the population. If you're young, or non-white, or an identifiable member of some sub-culture fairly or unfairly associated with drug use, you are much more likely to be stopped, hassled, and perhaps arrested. The writers of "10 Rules," Scott Morgan and Steve Silverman of Flex Your Rights understand that. Building on the foundation of their 2003 video, "Busted: A Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters," which featured mainly young, white people involved in police encounters, Morgan and Silverman have expanded their target audience. In three of the four scenarios used in the video -- a traffic stop and search, a street stop-and-frisk search, and a knock-and-talk home search -- the protagonists are a young black man, a young Latino man, and a black grandmother, respectively. In only one scene, two young men apparently doing a dope deal on the street, are the citizen protagonists white. That's not to say that "10 Rules" is intended only for the communities most targeted by police, just that the writers understand just who is being targeted by police. The lessons and wisdom of "10 Rules" are universally relevant in the United States, and all of us can benefit from knowing what our rights are and how to exercise them effectively. "10 Rules" does precisely that, and it does so in a street-smart way that understands cops sometimes don't want to play by the rules. "10 Rules" build upon the earlier "Busted" in more than one sense. While "10 Rules" is expanding the terrain covered by "Busted," it has taken the cinematic quality to the next level, too. While "Busted" was made using a beta cam, this flick is shot in High Definition video, and that makes for some great production values, which are evident from the opening scene. "10 Rules" was shot on a bigger budget that "Busted," it has more actors (including some drug reform faces you might recognize), and more professional actors, and it has more of the feel of a movie than most video documentaries. And it has legendary defense attorney William "Billy" Murphy, who plays the role of socratic interlocuter in the video. (You may remember him from appearances on HBO's "The Wire.") Appearing in a courtroom-like setting before a multi-ethnic group of very interested questioners, the pony-tailed lawyer begins with a basic discussion of the rights granted us by the US Constitution, especially the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth amendments dealing with the right to be free of unwarranted searches, the right to stay silent, and the right to legal counsel. His performance, folksy, yet forceful; scholarly, yet, street-savvy, sparkles throughout; his natural charisma shines through. From there, we alternate between Williams and his audience and the scenarios mentioned above. We see the young black man, Darren, get pulled over in traffic, produce a bit of bad attitude, and suffer mightily for his efforts. He gets handcuffed, manhandled, and consents to a search of his vehicle, after which the cop leaves his belongings strewn in the wet road and gives him a traffic ticket. Then it's back to the courtroom, where Darren, angry and feeling disrespected, tells his tale. Murphy is sympathetic, but explains that Darren broke rule #1. "Rule #1, always be calm and collected," the veteran attorney intones. "A police encounter is absolutely the worst time and place to vent your frustrations about getting stopped by the police. As soon as you opened your mouth, you failed the attitude test. Don't ever talk back, don't raise your voice, don't use profanity. Being hostile to police is stupid and dangerous." Such advice may be frustrating, but it's smart, and it's street-smart. Murphy noted that things could have turned out even worse, as the video showed in an alternate take on the scene with Darren twitching on the ground after getting tasered for his efforts. He also threw in some good advice about pulling over immediately, turning off the car, keeping your hands on the wheel, and turning on an interior light just to reduce police officers' nervousness level. Murphy uses the same scenario with Darren to get through rule #2 ("You always have the right to remain silent"), rule #3 ("You have the right to refuse searches), rule #4 ("Don't get fooled" -- the police can and will lie to you or tell you you'll get off easier if you do what they ask), and rule #5 ("Ask if you are free to go"). This time, the cop still has a bad attitude and Darren still gets a ticket, but he doesn't counterproductively antagonize the cop, he doesn't get rousted and handcuffed, he doesn't allow the cop to search his vehicle, he doesn't get intimated by the officers' threat to bring in a drug dog that will tear up his car, and he does ask if he's free to go. He is. Which brings us to a discussion of probable cause and and rule #6: "Don't expose yourself" and give police probable cause to search you. The video shows a car with bumper stickers saying "Got Weed?" "Bad Cop, No Donut," and "My other gun is a Tech-9" -- probably not a smart idea unless you really enjoy getting pulled over and hassled. More generally, "don't expose yourself" means that if you are carrying items you really don't want the police to see (and arrest you for), don't leave them lying around in plain sight. That's instant probable cause. I'm not going to tell you the rest of the rules because I want you to see the video for yourself. But I will tell you about the heart-rending scene where the black grandmother lets police search her home in the name of public safety -- there have been some gang gun crimes, they explain pleasantly -- and ends up getting busted for her granddaughter's pot stash, arrested, and is now facing eviction from her public housing. Under Murphy's guidance, we rewind and replay the scene, with grandma politely but firmly exercising her rights, keeping the cops out of her home, and not going to jail or threatened with losing her home. In a time when police are more aggressive than ever, "10 Rules" is an absolutely necessary corrective, full of folksy -- but accurate -- information. "10 Rules" is the kind of basic primer on your rights that every citizen needs to know, it's well-thought out and well-written, and it not only is it full of critically important information, it's entertaining. Go watch it and learn how to flex your rights. Better yet, watch it together with your friends, your family, or your classmates, then practice putting the rules into effect. Sometimes it's as simple as saying a simple phrase -- "Officer, am I free to go?" Do some role-playing, practice saying the magic words, and "10 Rules" can help you survive any police encounter in better shape than otherwise. When you're done, watch it and practice again -- familiarity is the best help when facing an intimidating police officer staring down at you. We all owe a debt of gratitude to people who feel strongly enough about the rule of law in this country to help others learn how the law protects them and how to protect themselves within the law. A big thank you to the guys at Flex Your Rights is in order. And they would be the first to tell you the best way to thank them is to learn and apply the "10 Rules."

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