NEW YORK — The New York City Council's meeting last Monday revealed that more than 86 percent of all marijuana arrests by the New York City Police Department are of African-Americans and Latinos. The NYPD acknowledged the large racial disparity of arrests after prompts from the City Council, according to the New York Daily News.
Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcement in November of 2014 that New York's penalty for marijuana possession would be a summons and a court appearance instead of an arrest, and arrests for marijuana possession in the New York did decrease 40 percent. However, with the majority all arrests being of minorities, City Council members voiced their concerns about the disparity at Monday's hearing.
Law enforcement officials attending the hearing admitted the disproportionately high rate of minority arrests for marijuana, citing in their defense complaints from residents and 911 calls. "Clearly that's troubling, and it should be troubling to anyone," said NYPD's chief of control strategy, Dermot Shea, adding, "Where the arrests are made, I believe, are where the complaints are." There is no evidence to confirm Shea's claim, nor could the NYPD provide any documentation confirming such calls.
The New York City Council's Public Safety and Justice Systems Committees chairman Donovan Richards told reporters that it was unbelievable that in a city of almost 9 million people, the only people to call the police with complaints of smelling marijuana are in minority neighborhoods. Richards challenged the seriousness of the NYPD's desire to change and said that the data shows that the racist practices of the police have not changed. Richards added that regardless of decriminalization, targeting minority neighborhoods is still the norm.
Councilwoman Inez Barron from said that the data proves racism by NYPD officers, adding that the NYPD was naïve if they didn't see that police officers are treating people of color differently, citing the deeply rooted bigotry of systematic racism.
Spokeswoman for Communities United for Police Reform, Priscilla Gonzalez, seemed to predict the new data back in 2014 when she complimented Mayor de Blasio for taking the first step towards marijuana reform. She also said that for it to work, systematic reform was necessary and that police would also have to end unlawful searches and targeting of minorities, saying that focusing on minorities "will only perpetuate racial profiling and discriminatory policing.”
High Minority Arrest Rate Is Statewide
Other parts of New York state have similar data for high arrest rates of minorities for marijuana possession. Seventy-six percent of arrests in Erie County for marijuana possession were of minorities, and 80 percent of all marijuana arrests in Buffalo were of African-Americans.
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes says that it's madness how the law handles marijuana and thinks that the state of New York should legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana. The state decriminalized the drug in 1977 for possession of under 25 grams, but language in the legislation still allows for an arrest if a person is searched in a public place.
The New York Assemblywoman says that legalization is a social justice issue, citing mass incarceration of minorities and the detrimental affect it has on them and their families. She says that money and resources are wasted prosecuting non-violent crimes, and that the costs become even higher if defendants' children end up in foster care due to prison sentences. An arrest can also impact a person's ability to find employment or housing.
White Americans and African-Americans consume marijuana at the same rate, and New York City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) says that law enforcement of marijuana in the city is "wildly" uneven, adding that police are more tolerant in non-minority neighborhoods than they are in minority communities.