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Europe: London Police More Likely to Arrest Blacks Than Whites for Marijuana Possession

A report from Scotland Yard, headquarters for London's Metropolitan Police, on race and marijuana arrests is leading to charges of racism. The report found that people from an African or Caribbean background made up 40% of all marijuana arrests in London, despite making up only 12% of the population. To make matters worse, once someone was stopped by police for violating the marijuana laws, he was more likely to be arrested if he was black.

The report looked at all 24,916 marijuana possession offences in the city between January and April of this year. It came as part of a broader study of marijuana policing since the weed was downgraded to a Class C drug in 2004. Since then, police have retained the power to arrest people for simple possession, but also have the option of issuing them a formal caution or giving them an informal "street warning."

They appear to be wielding that discretionary power in a discriminatory way. While 18.5% of blacks were arrested, only 14% of whites were. The numbers flipped when it came to those given a caution, with 19.3% of whites receiving them, compared to 14.2% of blacks.

Scotland Yard refused to blame racism in the ranks -- a sensitive topic in the Metropolitan Police in recent years -- and said "no remedial action is planned" pending further research. "We are undertaking further research of these figures in order to understand what the reason for the over-representation is," a police spokeswoman said. "It is not possible to reach a conclusion without this further work being conducted. The decision to arrest and charge will vary on a case by case basis and is often dependent on a complex variety of factors."

But George Rhoden, chairman of the Yard's Black Police Association, wasn't buying it. "It has got to be about racism. These figures show that racism plays a significant part in the way police deal with people of color," he told The Guardian. He said the police had been aware of the problem of disproportionality for many years. "So why are we still at this stage?"

Rhoden's criticism was joined by that of Dr. Richard Stone, who chaired an earlier commission looking at racism within the Metropolitan Police. Stone had "great sympathy" with Rhoden, he told The Guardian. "Where there is a disproportion of any kind you try to exclude any other possible reasons but none justify the continuing disproportion. You have to think the color of the suspect's skin is a significant factor. But the word racism has dropped off the agenda," he said.

Scotland Yard may not want to say the word, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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