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California Blacks Disproportionately Busted for Marijuana, Report Finds [FEATURE]

In a new report released Friday, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the California NAACP charged that African-Americans have been disproportionately targeted in low-level marijuana possession arrests. The report, Arresting Blacks for Marijuana Possession in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-2008, found that despite lower use rates, African-Americans were three, four, six, or even 13 times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites.

The report's release is timed to give Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization initiative, a boost in the few remaining days until election day. It was released at a press conference where California NAACP and DPA representatives were joined by Prop 19 campaign head Richard Lee, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) executive director Neill Franklin, Hollywood actor Danny Glover, and former US Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders. 

The report found that in Los Angeles, with 10% of the state's black population, blacks were seven times more likely to get busted than whites. In San Diego, the state's second largest city, blacks were six times more likely to get busted. Ditto for Sacramento. In Torrance, blacks were 13 times more likely to be busted than whites.

"This report documents enormous, widespread race-based disparities in the arrests of nonviolent, low-level marijuana possession offenders," said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The context is an enormous increase in the number of arrests for low-level possession in the past 20 years. Arrest rates for all other crimes have plummeted, from rape and murder to all other drug possession crimes, but marijuana possession arrests have tripled since 1990, from around 20,000 then to 61,000 last year. This was made possible by the targeting of communities of color, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, and more specifically, young African-Americans and Latinos."

It's not just that blacks are arrested disproportionately to whites. They are also arrested at rates far exceeding their percentage of the population. In Los Angeles, blacks make up 10% of the population, but 35% of all marijuana possession arrests. In Sacramento, it's 14% and 50%.

"These disparities were built from routine, pervasive, system-wide police practices," said Gutwillig. "This is not the result of a few racist cops; this is the way the system works."

"I don't think there is any question this is a civil rights issue," said California NAACP executive director Alice Huffman. "If you don't believe that, you don't believe in justice in America."

"We're spending billions of dollars each year on the war on drugs," said Dr. Elders. "It's been a war on young black males. Wars are supposed to end sometime. It's time to end this war. Proposition 19 is an opportunity to take drugs out of the hands of the drug cartels and put them where they can be controlled and taxed."

"This is not about a right to get high, it's an issue of a policy that does not work and is damaging to our society and most importantly, specifically damaging to people of color," said LEAP's Neill Franklin. "Marijuana prohibition is the most dysfunctional public policy in this country since slavery. The violence generated in our communities is unbelievable and it's because of the criminal market this policy creates. The lives of young African-Americans are being lost every day, and whether they lose their lives to violence or to a prison sentence, both are devastating," he said.

"This is an opportunity for law enforcement to get it right," said the former Maryland narcotics officer. "We spend a majority of our time dealing with low-level drug offenders, mainly marijuana," Franklin said. "In the 1960s, we solved nine out of 10 murders; now it's six out of 10. When you apprehend a murderer, murders go down. But when you take someone off the streets for selling marijuana, sales don't go down, and the violence increases because people are fighting for market share."

"I want to say publicly that I support Proposition 19," said film star Danny Glover. "The current laws do not work; they have failed us," he said. "We know we are arrested disproportionately. This is a civil rights issue," he maintained.

"I'm not a marijuana smoker, although I have tried it in the past, but I don't want to stand in the way of people who want to use marijuana recreationally," Glover continued. "This is a long battle, and we're on the right side."

"I've always seen cannabis prohibition as causing a war between police and citizens," said Lee. "Police are supposed to serve and protect, not wage war on the populace. We need police back protecting us from real criminals, not ourselves."

The Prop 19 campaign and DPA did it again this week, this time with Latino marijuana possession arrest rates. But it's already clear that racial disparities in the enforcement of California's pot laws exist, and simply decriminalizing marijuana possession, as Gov. Schwarzenegger did last month, will not change anything in that regard, at least not directly. Minority youths can still be hassled, harassed, and searched for an infraction, just as they were for a misdemeanor. It will take legalization to end such practices.

Oakland, CA
United States

Police Invade Wrong House on Drug Raid, Terrorize Elderly Couple

An elderly couple says sheriff's police on a drug raid smashed into their house late Thursday night, terrorizing them before admitting they had the wrong house.
Publication/Source: 
Chicago Tribune (IL)
URL: 
http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/10/cops-invade-wrong-house-on-drug-raid-terrorize-elderly-couple.html

Poor Mexicans Easy Scapegoats in Vicious Drug Prohibition War

Location: 
Ciudad Juárez, CHH
Mexico
Residents in Ciudad Juarez, the epicentre of Mexico's bloody drug prohibition war, say authorities are going after small offenders and innocent people such as poor workers even as they allow powerful drug lords to operate with impunity. President Felipe Calderon is under pressure to show results in his offensive against traffickers in Ciudad Juarez where he has deployed more than 7,500 soldiers and police, making the crackdown a central part of his war on drug trafficking organizations. But rights groups say corrupt or ineffective police and soldiers have rounded up hundreds of drug addicts and ordinary people in the manufacturing city across from El Paso, Texas without making major drug busts or arresting top capos.
Publication/Source: 
STV (UK)
URL: 
http://news.stv.tv/world/201607-poor-mexicans-easy-scapegoats-in-vicious-drug-war/

SWAT Raid Lawsuit Claims Rights Were Violated

Location: 
Columbia, MO
United States
A civil lawsuit filed yesterday against the city of Columbia and police officers claims a family’s constitutional rights were violated in a February SWAT raid at their home. The suit specifically cites violations of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the 14th Amendment, a citizens’ rights measure ratified after the Civil War.
Publication/Source: 
The Columbia Daily Tribune (MO)
URL: 
http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2010/sep/21/swat-raid-lawsuit-claims-rights-were-violated/

How the Drug War Has Subjugated Poor People of Color and Nullified the Fourth Amendment (Opinion)

Michelle Alexander, a longtime civil rights advocate, litigator, and author of 'The New Jim Crow', goes where mainstream journalists fear to tread. She explains how mass incarceration in the United States has emerged as a comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control -- and how those who turn a blind eye to the problem share in the blame.
Publication/Source: 
Nieman Watchdog (MA)
URL: 
http://niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=background.view&backgroundid=00486

Marijuana Law Reform is a Civil Rights Issue (Opinion)

Location: 
CA
United States
Alice Huffman, president of the California State NAACP, opines on the civil rights aspects of legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana in California. She says the California NAACP does not believe maintaining the illusion that we're winning the "war on drugs" is worth sacrificing another generation of our young men and women.
Publication/Source: 
San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
URL: 
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/09/15/EDQB1FE2T8.DTL

Reducing Penalties for Crack and Peyote...But When Marijuana? (Opinion)

The Marijuana Policy Project's executive director, Rob Kampia, reflects on advocating changes in marijuana policy in light of reductions in penalties with regard to crack cocaine and peyote. He says it's all about framing the issue.
Publication/Source: 
The Huffington Post (CA)
URL: 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-kampia/reducing-penalties-for-cr_b_711065.html

Ethics Panel Rips TV Drug Court

Location: 
AR
United States
Arkansas' judicial officials are questioning whether Washington-Madison County Drug Court, a popular local television program, should be aired. An opinion from the Arkansas Supreme Court Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, issued Thursday, appears to quash any thought of taking any version of the show national and questions whether it should continue to be broadcast locally. The committee members, two retired judges and a law professor, issued a scathing opinion saying they had concerns with any broadcast of drug court proceedings.
Publication/Source: 
Stuttgart Daily Leader (AR)
URL: 
http://www.stuttgartdailyleader.com/newsnow/x353256866/Ark-panel-issues-opinion-on-televising-drug-court

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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The Sentencing Project
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8th Floor
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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.

  

Police Ignore 'No trespassing' Sign, So Court Ignores Drug Evidence

Location: 
Selma, OR
United States
An Oregon judge has tossed out evidence seized in a marijuana case after ruling that police ignored "no trespassing" signs while acting on a tip in a drug raid last year.
Publication/Source: 
KVAL (OR)
URL: 
http://www.kval.com/news/local/101804673.html

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