Study: Blacks 9 times more likely than whites to be arrested for pot in NYC

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, June 6, 2013 14:08 EDT
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NYPD Officers. Image via Agence-France-Presse
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The New York Civil Liberties Union published a research report (PDF) Thursday detailing the vast racial disparities in the state’s marijuana enforcement regime, finding that black New Yorkers are, in some parts of the state, up to 9 times more likely to be arrested for pot than whites.

The NYCLU’s report follows an American Civil Liberties Union study published Monday that found non-whites nationwide are more than four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana despite higher usage rates among whites.

The NYCLU report found that the New York had by far the most marijuana arrests in the nation in 2010, beating even Texas and more than doubling the national average in spite of possession being decriminalized since 1977.

Though simple possession is a violation-level offense, so-called “stop and frisk” searches involve officers asking subjects to empty their pockets, and many caught with marijuana at that point have been subjected to an enhanced charge of displaying the drug in public, a misdemeanor crime.

Though New York officials from the chief of police in NYC all the way up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) have called for a reduction in marijuana arrests, critics of the policy say officers continue to “manufacture” criminal charges against people they catch in possession of the drug.

The NYCLU said that Kings County and New York County, home to Brooklyn and Manhattan, had by far the greatest racial disparities, where black people were more than 9 times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana. Statewide, the NYCLU found that African-Americans are 4.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Shockingly, the arrest rates fly in the face of drug usage statistics produced by government surveys, which shows that whites are much more likely to have used marijuana than blacks. Added, it’s been getting worse: since 2001, the marijuana arrest rate for blacks in New York has grown by 26 percent, the study found.

“In all corners of New York State, police are targeting people of color for marijuana possession arrests,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman explained in an advisory. “Arresting and jailing thousands of people for possessing small amounts of marijuana does not make safer streets. It only needlessly disrupts people’s lives and fosters distrust between the police and the communities they are sworn to serve.”

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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